Christmas greetings from quiet London


LAST week I received a text message from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) stating that I would be contacted when it was time to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

The message from the NHS, referring to the UK public hospitals, stated that the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination program has started. If necessary, you will receive an invitation to book.

“Please do not call us to make an appointment until you are invited.”

So far, around 500,000 people in the UK have received the first dose of the vaccine.

There is a race against time to vaccinate most of the country’s 66.7 million people.

Currently, with Christmas only two days away, central London is a deserted place following the recent Covid-19 restrictions announced last Saturday.

The Christmas lights in the shopping areas are still on, but the space is empty.

Much has changed in just a few days.

Just last week, Oxford Street, one of London’s most popular shopping centers, was full of shoppers looking for last-minute Christmas gifts.

However, as part of the newly enforced Level 4 lockdown, residents were told to stay home.

They are only allowed to celebrate Christmas with members of their own household.

People living in Tier 4 areas, which include London, are not allowed to leave the country.

Many of my friends who failed to join the mad rush to leave London last Saturday when the verdict was first pronounced are now stuck here.

They had to give up their plans to spend Christmas with their families.

It all seems as ironic as it did a few weeks ago when the streets of London were cleared on December 2nd.

Just two kilometers east of Oxford Street, where I live, the daily routine was slowly trickling back into Camden, where I had moved six months ago.

On my usual jogging route, I noticed a painting shop and shoe repair shop were reopening.

Queues had also formed again in restaurants and cafés.

However, this was canceled just two weeks later due to a more virulent mutation in the Covid-19 virus.

The variant was discovered in September but was recently found to be 70% more transmissible.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson abruptly announced on Saturday that London, along with much of the south of England, would now be classified as Tier 4, requiring the closure of all non-essential businesses. Indoor entertainment venues and gyms are also prohibited from opening.

Everyone is advised to stay home. The previous permission for people from different households to mingle during a five-day “Christmas bubble” has been discarded.

But there are good reasons to stay home this Christmas, as there have been 47,018 confirmed cases in London alone in the last week, with actual cases expected to be much higher.

The number of infections in the district I live in has more than doubled in just a week.

The headache seems to have no end. Many speculate that there could be a food shortage in the run-up to Christmas as France announced a 48-hour ban on the entry of trucks from the UK.

In parts of the country where shoppers cleared supermarket shelves, there have been some panic buying despite the government telling people to shop “normally”.

Despite all the restrictions, life hasn’t changed that much for me.

I continue to shop at a nearby German supermarket on Tottenham Court Road at 6:30 a.m. to avoid the crowds. It’s a habit I’ve started since the pandemic broke out.

I run three times a week, also at 6:30 a.m., to minimize the chances of human contact.

Every Friday evening I take my weekly meditation class organized by the abbot of a temple in Warwick with the help of Zoom.

I am fortunate to work as an accountant which allows me to work from home.

Even so, after being detained for over nine months, I still feel tired.

I haven’t used public transport since March and have ridden no more than 30 km from central London.

My family, girlfriend and most of my friends are in Malaysia. Part of me longs to return home soon. This is unlikely in the next few months as more than 40 countries have banned flights from the UK to protect themselves from the spread of the mutant strain of Covid.

The good news is that with the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccines, a possible end is in sight.

While a quiet Christmas is ahead and the prospect of a lengthy strict lockdown, the vaccines give everyone hope that at some point we will return to some semblance of normalcy.

Adrian Chan is a former journalist at The Star who now works as a forensic accountant in London. The views expressed here are solely those of the writer.