The development of vaccines at the tail-end of last year had injected some much-needed hope for the future, with many anticipating and expecting some brighter months ahead.
But any NYE good cheer was dampened quickly, with soaring cases forcing England to re-enter hibernation on January 4 to relieve pressure on the NHS.
Lockdown will remain intact until jabs are administered far and wide – with government ministers repeatedly emphasising that the vaccine is our ticket out of here.
Progress is good.
More than 10 million people have received a jab so far, with the government on target to vaccinate the most at-risk people in Britain (care home staff and residents, those aged 70 or over, frontline workers and clinically vulnerable) by February 15.
The latest data has also shown that the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab has a “substantial” effect on transmission, and just a single dose could offer 76% protection three months on.
Cases, too, are falling – with the rolling 7-day average down from nearly 60,000 positive tests to 21,000 in the space of a month.
The major obstacle to the road to normalcy is the emergence of new variants.
A strain found in South Africa is currently causing most concern, with scientists believing it may be more transmissible and slightly more resistant to vaccines (although formulas are in the process of being tweaked to ensure maximum effect).
In the meantime, the government is focusing on ramping up the rollout with the aim of vaccinating every adult by the end of June, according to The Telegraph.
This optimism is also being shared by certain members of academia, with Professor Andrew Hayward, – expert in infectious disease epidemiology and inclusion health research at University College London – telling The Mirror that things could be looking up by the summer.
He stated: “Once the most vulnerable people, particularly those over-50 and those with chronic illnesses, are vaccinated then yes, I think we can see a significant return to normality.
“I think what we’ll see is a phased opening up as vaccination levels increase. Then we’ll be more or less back to normal for the summer, I would imagine.”
The Bank of England is also predicting the economy to bounce back at speed – claiming that GDP would “recover rapidly” throughout the course of 2021.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has expressed hopes for a “great British summer”, which have been echoed by Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi.
After a pretty torrid winter, the outlook for the UK appears to finally be improving, but there remains a huge question mark as to whether the virus will soon dwindle to tiny numbers like it has in nations such as New Zealand.
Strict border controls are also likely to remain in place for travel to any other nations where COVID variants emerge, and Dr Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at London School of Economics, said it could be another two or three years until complete normality is restored.
“This pandemic isn’t going to be over until it’s over globally,” she told Sky News.
“We’re still going to be living in some form of restrictions – travel restrictions, border controls – even when we’re vaccinated, until it’s over round the world. So there’s a real imperative to make sure that everybody round the world has at least minimum levels of vaccines at the same time.”
Prof Helen Rees, who sits on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) committee for Covid-19, agreed that normal life was many months away.
She told the BBC: “I’m afraid to say… I think we are going to be well into next year before we see a change.
“The mask-wearing, the distancing – all of the measures that we have put in place – will have to continue.
“This virus is nasty and this virus knows how to change. If we want to get rid of it, my advice to the politicians is to continue what you are doing – to have these measures.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, it is likely we will begin to see a gradual lifting of lockdown measures across the UK.
Schools are being tipped to return on March 8 in England – with Scotland already confirming a return for some pupils later this month.
The week of February 22 will bring us the next big update – as Boris Johnson unrolls his roadmap to exiting lockdown and announces what will reopen on which dates; including shops, pubs, gyms and hairdressers.
After this announcement, the fuzzy outlook for the rest of 2021 should come into sharper focus.
It may still involve face coverings and keeping a distance. But also far more freedom.
Amsterdam urges young British men to ‘stay away’ in new tourism campaign
Amsterdam has launched a new tourism campaign, and it’s urging young British men who are looking for a “messy night” to reconsider.
In fact, it basically just tells them to “stay away” from the Dutch city.
The capital city of the Netherlands always has, and still continues to be, a popular tourist destination for travelling Brits, and has developed a reputation as being a go-to spot for stag and hen parties thanks to its nightlife scene and… other activities.
But now, it seems the city’s Council are keen to ditch this image with a series of new measures.
It comes amid continuous complaints by residents over the noise, drunkenness, and misbehaviour of tourists revelling in the city’s nightlife, and is part on the Council’s ongoing mission to improve Amsterdam’s reputation.
The new measures most-notably include an online initiative aimed at young men aged 18 to 35, which involves a series of targeted warning videos.
The videos feature footage of men being arrested in Amsterdam streets, having their fingerprints and mugshots taken, and subsequently being locked inside police cells overnight – before warning them that they face hefty fines and “fewer prospects” if they “misbehave and cause nuisance” that leads to a criminal record.
Amsterdam’s Deputy Mayor Sofyan Mbarki said: “Visitors will remain welcome but not if they misbehave and cause nuisance. As a city, we are saying: we’d rather not have this, so stay away.”
The videos will be triggered when people in Britain enter specific terms into search engines.
Some of search terms that could see Brits hit with these Council-developed warning videos include “cheap hotel Amsterdam”, “stag party Amsterdam”, and “pub crawl Amsterdam”.
The campaign – which has already been blasted by some critics for being “discriminatory” – is to initially launch in Britain but will be rolled out to other countries in due course if deemed successful, and joins other proposed measures announced by the Council last month to reduce “nuisance and crime”.
In a bid to make the Red Light District “less menacing” at night following complaints about mass tourism, alcohol and drug abuse, and street dealers, these proposed measures include smoking cannabis in the street, and earlier weekend closing times for bars, clubs, and sex work establishments.
Eurovision 2023 grand final to be screened live in cinemas across the UK
The grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest is to be screened live in cinemas across the UK for the first time ever.
With fans from across the globe set to descend on Liverpool in a couple of months time as the UK hosts the 2023 edition of the world’s biggest song competition on behalf of last year’s winners Ukraine, those who weren’t lucky enough to secure tickets will instead by able to head to their nearest cinema to experience the action on the big screen.
Distributor CinemaLive has announced it will be broadcasting the Eurovision grand final show live in cinemas nationwide for the first time ever.
It means that Eurovision fans up and down the country who missed out on grabbing tickets to the final – which sold out in under 40 minutes after going on sale earlier this month – will be able to come together to celebrate what is set to be the “biggest, brightest, boldest music party of the year”.
500 cinemas across the UK, including several here in Greater Manchester, will be screening the grand final on Saturday 13 May.
Vue, Odeon, Cineworld, and Everyman are just some of the cinema chains taking part.
Vue Manchester Printworks, Odeon Great Northern, and Everyman Manchester are the Manchester city centre venues lined-up to screen the event – with cinemas in the The Lowry Outlet Mall, Trafford Centre, Didsbury, Heaton Moor, Ashton-under-Lyne, Bolton, and more also set to welcome Eurovision fans through their doors.
Event organisers say the screenings will encourage singalongs and fancy dress.
“We’re delighted to be working with the BBC to bring Eurovision’s grand final live into cinemas across the UK for the first time ever,” said John Travers from CinemaLive.
“We want audiences to enjoy themselves, so get your fancy dress on, and come together to enjoy this historic occasion on the big screen.”