Locked down in London: Heartbreaking stories of Christmas in tier four

On Saturday, after a few hours of public speculation and a last-minute press conference scheduled for 4pm, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that London would be entering the newly created tier four, bringing with it a host of new restrictions.

For many, this was frustrating news, even more disheartening following the promise of a short break from the limitations put on all of our lives in 2020 to allow a few days to enjoy festivities.

It would have been the closest we’ve come to liberation in months, and it propelled the capital into a collective feeling of loss.

Back in November, Age UK released research showing that 7.7 million people aged 65 and over (more than half of the UK’s older population) were concerned they wouldn’t see friends and family this Christmas. In light of the new bans on movement and now being to mix with other households, it seems their fears will be realised under tier four rules.

It’s heartbreaking for many. From those stuck inside their homes with people close by that they’re no longer allowed to see, to those that have friends and family based miles and miles away.

Floss, 82, was hoping to see her brother this Christmas, as he’s recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, but she’s no longer allowed under the new restrictions.

‘In my 82 years of life, and I’ve lived through a World War, I have never had Christmas cancelled,’ Floss tells Metro.co.uk.

The changes have hit people living in London but with family and friends based in other parts of the UK or overseas, who have had to cancel their Christmas plans last-minute and hold off on reuniting with loved ones until a now undefined date.

According to ONS, of the 8.88million people living in London in 2020, 3.32 million (37%) were born outside of the United Kingdom. With travel restrictions in and out of London changing day-by-day, the capital is edging towards a feeling of being entirely cut off in an attempt to control the spread of coronavirus.

Frans, 26, is from the Netherlands, and had planned to pay a Christmas visit to his family to introduce them to his partner, but has since become stuck in London.

‘On Saturday night, The Netherlands banned UK flights until the end of year, then Belgium put a halt on travellers for 24 hours on Sunday, followed by France blocking tunnel traffic from Monday, though expecting to re-open soon,’ Frans tells us.

‘I know I could travel without putting others at risk, with a negative test as well as following the 10 day quarantine rules before and after traveling, yet it’s difficult to plan, and therefore take the right precautions, if restrictions seemingly change on a day-to-day and country-by-country basis.

‘I’m frustrated by the fluidity and short-term changes in restrictions more than I’m disappointed by the restrictions themselves.’

It’s a sentiment that’s been expressed by many – the suddenness of the new rules heightening the sense of loss.

For those having to change their plans, while it’s no fault of their own, there’s a sense of guilt over letting family down and a profound pull to return home after what has been a year of extreme distance and loss.

Harry, 27, was born in the UK before moving to live overseas for most of his life. His family returned to the UK at different times, and any chance they have to reunite is special. Any other year, Christmas is one of those times.

‘It’s been a long time since my family and I have lived in the same place, but we’re incredibly close and really cherish the time we do get to spend together,’ he says.

‘I booked two different tickets from London to my family home in Cornwall in an attempt to make it home for Christmas. Being thrown into lockdown at such short notice, in a time when my daily contact with other people is so minimal already, has been hard to take.

‘It’s difficult to feel like it’s Christmas when I’m missing my family. I keep thinking about how we’d be celebrating if I could have made it home and can’t help but feel I could have done more if there’d been an earlier warning.’

Without more time to prepare and plan a safe escape from London, people have been left stranded in a city that is known for sky-high rent, limited space and shared housing.

Olivia, 26, had been looking forward to Christmas at her partners parents’ house in North Wales along with her partner and his brother, after a tough year self-employed in the arts. While they’d arranged to be picked up during the travel window to avoid public transport, they’ll now be staying in their flat in Croydon instead.

She says: ‘We’re all very sad, it’s been such a long time since we were able to see loved ones and to get out of our lovely but very little flat. It was the one thing that we had to look forward to this year.’

But Olivia has plans to make the best of what is a tremendously difficult situation.

‘We’ve decided that we might as well make a weird Christmas even weirder and find the joy in it,’ she tells us. ‘I’ve crafted a rather elaborate treasure hunt for the boys on Christmas Day, we’ve written and recorded our own Christmas song, created our own version of Taskmaster to play and we’ve got plans to order an Indian takeaway.

‘Throw in a few Zoom calls and many beers and we’re hopeful that we’ll still manage to have a lovely day.’

The most recent data from Public Health England shows that every one of London’s boroughs have infection rates higher than the England average, and that in all 24 boroughs the infection rate is more than doubling every week. As of 21 December 2020, the total number of COVID-19 cases identified in London was 268,887, compared to 1,804,923 for England as a whole.

These statistics are worrying in a time when we’ve already lived in a sustained state of fear for longer than we could have imagined.

Yes, coronavirus is a real threat, but it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s painstaking to spend Christmas alone after what has been, unarguably, a terrible year.

Both of these things can be true: coronavirus must be taken seriously, and so too should the impact of locking down a city and hiding away the key at the last possible moment. The result: more of us than ever will be lonely this Christmas.

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