Headlines from the days before and after the alleged Downing Street Christmas Party on December 18 2020.
When Downing Street officials allegedly held a Christmas party in the depths of lockdown last year, the rest of the UK was being hammered by Covid.
The party at Number 10 – reported last week before footage leaked of Boris Johnson’s staffers laughing and joking about it while rehearsing a press briefing – has landed ministers at the heart of a media storm amid widespread outrage from the public.
It reportedly took place on December 18 2020, just a day before the prime minister effectively cancelled Christmas for millions across the country.
Speaking at PMQs Johnson, seemingly distancing himself from the scandal, said he shared the country’s fury – and added that he’d been assured there was no party at his home, but that he would order an investigation.
The news has caused hurt around the country, as people reflected on missing out on funerals and their family members’ final moments because they were abiding by the government’s own restrictions.
So much has happened that it’s hard to remember exactly how bad Covid was at the time of this alleged party. So here’s a reminder.
Most of the UK lived under a strict lockdown
Much of the country was already facing strong restrictions, particularly parts of Scotland and the north of England. Millions were cut off from family and friends, facing Christmas alone and struggling to make ends meet in the depths of winter because lockdown meant they couldn’t work.
And just a day after the reported party, Boris Johnson put London and south-east England under tougher restrictions, quickly followed by the rest of the country. An exception was made for Christmas day only. England officially entered its third national lockdown on December 6.
A new Covid variant was discovered days before the Downing Street Christmas party
Four days before the alleged party, then-health secretary Matt Hancock briefed MPs on the discovery of a more transmissible new Covid variant.
First found in Kent, the variant was already growing exponentially around England and would quickly drive up numbers across the whole UK.
Children’s return to classrooms was delayed
Following months of trying to learn from home and away from their peers, school pupils had been told they could return to learning in person after the Christmas holiday. But the week of the Downing Street Christmas party, it was announced that the full return of secondary school pupils would be delayed by at least a week.
While circumstances varied between regions and age groups, most schools stayed closed to all but vulnerable children until March 2021.
The UK recorded the highest number of Covid cases in a single day so far
On December 17 – one day before the alleged party – 35,383 positive cases were recorded across the UK as the latest coronavirus wave hammered the country. It was the most seen in one day since the beginning of the pandemic.
Hospitals were running out of beds and operations were being cancelled
The NHS was under unprecedented strain between soaring Covid-19 infections, seasonal illnesses and the demand for care created when many services were halted during the first lockdown.
A week before the party, hospitals in England were facing a bed shortage so severe that staff were having to turn ambulances away when they brought in patients. Guardian analysis showed hospitals told 44 ambulances to try other hospitals that week, the highest in four years.
Details of Boris Johnson’s plans to put swathes of the country into lockdown had leaked to the press days before the alleged party.
It meant that people across England were living in fear for their jobs while abiding by the government’s restrictions to help stem the spread of Covid. A last-minute lockdown days before Christmas spelled disaster for hospitality businesses in particular. The closure of pubs, restaurants and theatres in London alone put 150,000 jobs at risk.