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'Disbelief': Britons reflect on a bizarre year since the first lockdown

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It's now one year since the UK first locked down to fight coronavirus
It's now one year since the UK first locked down to fight coronavirus   -   Copyright  Matt Dunham/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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Today marks one year since the start of the UK’s first lockdown.

It was slower than many of its European neighbours to implement drastic measures. But with coronavirus cases rising rapidly and hospitals filling up, the UK quickly followed in the footsteps of Italy, France and Spain with a strict lockdown.

Life suddenly went from business as usual to the ‘new normal’ that so many around the world have had to adapt to.

Through a year that has bounced between lockdown, relaxations of measures, and lockdown once again, the UK economy has taken a hit in the region of £251 billion.

That’s according to estimates from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), which says the pandemic has been the predominant cause.

This reflects the difficult circumstances many businesses and workers have been left in, and the radical changes almost everyone has experienced in their day-to-day.

Euronews spoke to people from a cross-section of the population, to see how the last year has impacted their jobs, and life.

Jamie Mayers, 31, palliative care doctor

Jamie Mayers
Jamie Mayers with her dog GibsonJamie Mayers

"I don't think any of us really knew what to expect when lockdown was announced a year ago. It seemed a necessary step to try and help stop the spread of disease that we saw taking over our hospitals.

"I think to some extent it was all a bit new and exciting for people - not having to go to work, being allowed to stay home, a new experience for us all.

"We all took it very seriously. Judiciously queuing outside shops, keeping our distance and washing our hands.

"I suppose rather naively I didn't think too much about how it might affect my mental and physical health at the start. I actually caught COVID not long into lockdown, and was very lucky that I wasn't too unwell with it. I worried about how an older, frailer person would be affected, and lockdown certainly felt like the right thing for the government to be doing.

I hope that coming out of this pandemic we really start to value the little things and be so grateful for what we have.

"At the time when lockdown was announced, we still to some extent didn't fully understand what we were dealing with. We have learned so much about this disease since then - ways to treat it, how it affects our bodies, how to vaccinate against it, and how to keep ourselves safe. I certainly didn't think we'd still be locked down a year later! I was thinking we would have a normal summer 2020!

"I think overall I have been incredibly lucky that I have been able to have some 'normality' with still going out to work every day - a luxury that many have sadly not been able to have. Certainly the way we work has changed immensely - from masks and even more frequent hand washing, to hospital visiting and even what we wear day-to-day.

"What I've really found tough is not being able to see patients and relatives face-to-face, and not being able to hold a hand or give a hug. Of course, I've also missed my family and friends hugely. After looking after patients with COVID I have had to be so careful about what I do and who I see out of work for fear of spreading the disease to them. Even after being vaccinated, it is so important to keep being careful.

"At the moment it's hard to know for sure what the 'new normal' will be. Will we still be wearing masks for all patient care this time next year? Will we be able to hug our friends at a summer barbeque?

"In terms of work, I'm sure that the new infection control procedures will rightly endure. I hope that numbers of patients affected by COVID will continue to decrease - but that remains to be seen once things open back up again.

"Working in palliative medicine, I often reflect on what is really important in life. I think this pandemic has put life into perspective for many people. The things we have missed most - our family, friends, music, picnics, even (dare I say) work.

"I hope that coming out of this pandemic we really start to value the little things and be so grateful for what we have. I hope that we continue to be kind and caring towards one another, and that we continue to check in with each other - knowing how difficult this crazy life can be! I hope we don't take each other for granted and that we enjoy every second we are given."

Elle George, 30, head of year at a secondary school

Elle George
Teachers have had to adapt from busy classrooms, to home working challengesElle George

“At first it was disbelief, I didn’t think it was going to be impacting us.

"I didn’t think it [lockdown] was going to happen, but over time it became apparent it would have to because all the instructions we were being given, such as keeping distance, it wasn’t happening at all in school. It was a bit of a shock though when it happened. I don’t think anyone thought it would go on as long for as long as it did for the first time.

"It’s been a big shift, going from working in school face-to-face to working from home. We had to learn loads of new skills. It went initially from adapting our lessons to a couple of worksheets we’d post online, to actually using Microsoft Teams as a way to teach.

"The lockdown just gone was quite different. We taught all of our normal lessons. The first lockdown wasn't anything like that, we weren’t doing anything like the same volume of work.

We had a lot of issues before lockdown in January of kids having full-blown temper tantrums, just not being able to regulate their emotions because they had been at home for so long.

"I was becoming something of a mentor for some of the parents. A lot of parents were really struggling, and I took on a bit of a social worker role for some parents of kids in my year group.

"The situation has had a big impact on the kids. I’m head of Year 8 and they’re still so young, they didn’t finish their year 7, they only had half their Year 7 on the school site.

"We had a lot of issues before lockdown in January of kids having full-blown temper tantrums, just not being able to regulate their emotions because they had been at home for so long.

"They come back to school and are expected to manage those emotions and control themselves and they can't do it. We were having explosions of anger left, right and centre.”

Nancy Sullivan, 36, actor/director

Ruth Crafer Photography/Ruth Crafer
Nancy Sullivan hopes theatre will open up in a different way once the pandemic is overRuth Crafer Photography/Ruth Crafer

“My initial reaction was oddly a sense of relief which surprised me. Being a freelancer you’re constantly looking for the next job and waiting for the phone to ring and all of a sudden you knew it couldn’t so there was a real sense of getting off the treadmill of life. Pausing for a moment. Not worrying I wasn’t doing or achieving enough. This was obviously before any of us knew how long this would go on for! If I knew, my initial reaction would’ve been very different.

I’ve been affected massively financially

"I never thought this would have gone on for a year. If I’d have known that initially, I would’ve had a lot of anxiety around it, I thought initially this would be a nice three-month break and we’d all be ok and back to normal by the summer.

"I’ve been affected massively financially, I’ve lost a lot of work that had been booked and then been booked for jobs and cancelled at the last minute. No matter how much I’ve tried this last year, I’ve not been able to break through with work as my industry has just been so affected. Even now I just had a job booked for October 2021 in Italy to do My Fair Lady and it's been cancelled. I’ve booked adverts which have been cancelled 12 hours later in the last three months. It’s just been a nightmare.

"I don’t know what this situation will leave me with going back to my industry to be honest. There have been times I’ve forgotten I'm a creative during this, and felt tempted to look into other careers, but I love what I do and was doing quite well at it before COVID. Every time I look into other options my heart sinks. My industry just feels very far away at the moment but as soon as that next job gets booked and actually can happen that’ll all change in an instant.

"I’m hoping when things are open again that this can push theatre to open up in a different way and I’m exploring this myself. I’m currently creating a new open-air theatre in Abbey Wood, The Ruined Theatre, set within the ruins of Lesnes Abbey ruins. This is something I’d always wanted to do!”

Rory Jones, 32, tour manager for rock bands

Naz Stone
Rory Jones (second left) with the band Black Pumas during their European tour, weeks before the UK’s lockdown hit.Naz Stone

“I didn’t think it would last this long. I’ve been reminded recently that Boris [Johnson] at that press conference said it would be 12 weeks and ‘we’ll send the virus packing’.

"I genuinely thought shows would be happening again and life would be back to normal by October, the way lockdown in the UK happened it looked like there might have been some reality in that in mid-August. Then the variants hit. I’ve now gone to the other end of the spectrum, and I’m very cautious about festivals potentially happening.

When restrictions are eased, I still can’t see everything going back to pre-COVID normality in this industry for a long time.

"My life, my job, my prospects have been heavily affected. In my job I need to travel a lot, the live events industry obviously has been hugely impacted, but also in the sense of the lack of security has particularly affected my plan to even get some sort of normality in the last year. The fact I was unsure when to come back [having moved to Barcelona for a few months], and of course that’s been compounded by Brexit which means it will be harder for me to get to Barcelona again anyway.

"I don’t know when I’ll restart work. I’d moved out of a flat just before the pandemic with plans to move to America. We’re used to a certain amount of limbo in my industry. But this is like an ultimate state of limbo right now.

"When things open up it will not mean a return to normality for my career for a long time. Things are opening up in the next couple of months but we’re still unsure how it will affect flying. This is work for us, it wouldn’t be unusual for us to fly to three countries in four days. How is this going to work with quarantine? We don’t know. When restrictions are eased, I still can’t see everything going back to pre-COVID normality in this industry for a long time.

"What I do hope is by autumn shows will be back to some kind of normal operation for the audience, and I'm hoping my first tour back will be with four-time Grammy-nominated Austin band Black Pumas in November. They've seen their rise to prominence happen in the year of COVID so it will be really interesting to see how things play out.

"However, it doesn't mean normality will have resumed on the logistics side of what makes a tour happen, when it comes to international travel, paperwork, and COVID-safe operating procedures. It's very difficult to know if these procedures and contingencies will be with us for good, and if that's the case added costs will undoubtedly come with that.

"At that point the industry will have to figure out where that cost gets passed onto: either the audience, the band, the venues, or the promoters. It's a double blow as this is exactly something the industry was in the process of figuring out when it was hit by the extra complications and costs of Brexit!"

Grace, 22, recent university graduate

Michael D Beckwith
A recent student of University of Oxford (pictured), Grace has graduated into a tough job market thanks to the pandemicMichael D Beckwith

“My initial reaction was surprise, but like most people I didn’t think that we’d be locked down for more than a few weeks. It wasn’t until I was told to leave university accommodation and it was announced that schools were closing that it seemed very serious.

"COVID affected my last term of university; I had to leave my accommodation and move back in with my parents and my final exams were moved to an online format. It was difficult having to adjust to the new format at short notice, and the communication from my university was often vague or confusing. However I’m grateful that I only missed out on the last few months and not even longer, as has been the case for most current students.

"It has been concerning graduating into an economy that seems to be on its knees with a poor jobs market. I’m lucky that I’ve found a job although it’s a temporary contract. I hope that when lockdown is eased it will be easier to find something permanent.

"I hope that the events and hospitality sector will be able to recover as the main thing I’m looking forward to is being able to socialise with my friends again! I also hope to be able to go abroad this summer to visit family, and a holiday would be nice too!”