Despite the Omicron wave, Britons won’t lose another Christmas

LONDON – Beneath the lavish Christmas decorations strung on one of London’s most famous shopping streets, presents flooded the arms of three grinning brothers, the smallest boy wrestling flip to hold on to a large yellow toy truck.

Their grandfather, Stephen Murphy, who, with his daughter, took the boys to Carnaby Street said: “We just got the last thing, treated the kids to a few things. Despite the latest pandemic, he plans to go to another girl’s house for Christmas dinner.

“We hope this year’s Christmas will be better,” said Mr Murphy, who lives in north-west London. “Obviously last year was pretty bad.”

A year ago, a catastrophic second wave of Covid-19, closures and fears canceled all but a holiday that even secular Britons prize, prompting shops to close. , dark pubs and separated families.

This year, they have none of that. By far the biggest wave of coronavirus – although not the deadliest to date – is sweeping across the country, fueled by the Omicron variant. London has been hit particularly hard, with the mayor taking emergency measures to strengthen the healthcare system. Even so, Britons, mostly vaccinated and fluctuating between vigilance and good spirits, are observing new albeit not reoccurring precautions.

Majid Khan and his sister, Laraib, joined the crowds of shoppers on Carnaby Street, 18-year-old Ms Khan, grinning under the shimmering screens. This is her first visit to the city from their home in the north of England.

“We are proceeding with the plans as usual and quite honestly, even with all the restrictions that may be put in place,” said Mr Khan, 27, acknowledging the concerns about coronavirus cases in the city.

Mr Khan is visiting London for Christmas, so he wanted to introduce the city to his sister. He said the atmosphere was still festive and that they were both vaccinated, but added, “it’s just a little bit nervous, there’s still a lot of unknowns.”

Christmas shoppers have gathered in central London this week. But even as their arms fluttered with bags, there was a clear cheer for them. They know the festival could be the last, short time without further restrictions on the coronavirus.

It is the most anticipated holiday in recent memory, after so many plans were scuppered last year, when London closed just days before Christmas and the rest of the country soon followed suit. . Over the course of a year, Britain has reason to hope that this December the pandemic will be behind them, and it will be a time to reconnect with family, celebrate with friends, and gather in pubs. and around the kitchen table.

But then came Omicron, which seems to be the fastest-spreading variant, dimming the prospect of an ordinary holiday season. Last winter’s surge peaked at 68,000 new cases in the UK in just one day, but the current wave has grown much bigger, much faster, continuously breaking records daily. On Thursday, almost 120,000 new cases has been recorded.

Although Omicron appears to cause less serious illness than other variants, scientists have warned that the dramatic rise in cases could overwhelm the country’s healthcare system. Mask regulations, vaccine passport requirements and tightening travel rules have been announced, but the government has so far resisted a more drastic ban.

In a video message on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said no new coronavirus measures would be in place in the UK before Christmas. However, he encouraged caution and did not rule out the possibility of more restrictions after the holiday season, and concerns about another round of account lockouts persisting.

“We didn’t see our family last year, we sacrificed that once,” said Mr Khan. “And I really don’t want to think we’ll have to do it again.”

For some who flock to London’s busy streets, Omicron’s looming woes are an afterthought.

For Rachel Powell, who is visiting from northern England with her children this week, the increase in cases is not a cause for concern.

“It hasn’t spoiled any of our plans yet,” she said as they paused for a moment under the white star-shaped Christmas lights that dangled from Oxford Street, one of the busy shopping boulevards. and the most elegant of London.

But for many tourists as well as Londoners, there is a sense that the “move on” mentality that has seen them in the past few months – as the pandemic has become a afterthought for many – has change.

Megan Tattersley, 24, was exploring Covent Garden on the last day of a short visit to London with two friends from Yorkshire, northern England. She says she has felt a noticeable change in attitudes, especially after the government activated a long-resistant coronavirus contingency plan earlier this month.

“People quickly adapt to that and you’ll see them bring it on board,” she said.

Her team is more used to displaying vaccination tickets at locations in London and using face masks and hand sanitizer than ever before. At the same time, Ms. Tattersley said, the national will for an entirely different strike was no longer there.

She pointed to the recent reports of government party Last year, during a time when leaders advised the public not to see his family – reports plunged Mr Johnson into boiling water.

“I think a lot of people get sick of it,” she said. “And there are questions around, ‘Is this variation something we should really be worried about?'” It’s hard to navigate all the new information, she added.

The women say their festive getaway is like the calm before a storm, and potentially their last chance to have fun, as they expect further tightening of restrictions later. Christmas.

“They didn’t warn you much did they?” Katrina Burt, 23. “So just enjoy what you can while you can.”

In London, signs that things could change are never far from sight. Most of those crowded into the city’s main shopping areas this week wore masks, a recent change.

The Prince Charles cinema area, near Leicester Square, has issued a stern reminder to patrons in bold capital letters: “COVID PASS NEED TO BE HERE FROM 26 DECEMBER”.

This week, Londoners riding the Tube were almost all wearing masks, a stark difference from just a few weeks ago when most riders had to wear masks.

Such warnings haven’t stopped Emma Carey-Topping, 33, and John Carey-Topping, 34, from enjoying the city on a trip from Yorkshire with their daughter for sightseeing.

They admit they’ve been lucky this year to see their normal jobs continue and say they’re not worried about a spike in cases. But they find it difficult to meet their friends who are more cautious about the pandemic.

Ms Carey-Topping said Britain just had to learn to live with a pandemic now that so many people in the country were vaccinated, like the flu that breaks out every year.

“And we’re still living with it and unfortunately people are still dying from the flu,” she said. “But we still have to go on with our daily lives.”

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