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In Pictures: The Covid storm cloud that loomed large over 2021

It was another year dominated by coronavirus.

Man in face mask

The dark cloud of coronavirus hung over Britain throughout 2021, a year which started with lockdown and ended with yet more restrictions in place as the Omicron variant took hold.

The start of the new year was muted, with people told to stay at home once again and schools, shops and restaurants closed.

It was a long, dark winter for most, with long periods of freezing conditions in many parts of the country adding to the gloom.

Shopper in face mask
Many shops had their Christmas displays in place well into the spring, after having to shut abruptly in December as the latest lockdown began (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Man with umbrella
Routes usually packed with commuters were quiet once again as people returned to working from home (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

But unlike the previous lockdowns, this time there was hope in the form of the vaccination campaign.

The rollout expanded at pace, with tens of thousands of people jabbed each day as vaccinators worked their way down the list of the most at-risk groups first.

Boris Johnson vaccinated
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the vaccination drive was the best way out of the restrictions, as he urged people to come forward when called to be jabbed (Frank Augstein/PA)

At the end of February, with millions having now received their first dose, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the leaders of the devolved nations set out plans and a rough timeline for restrictions to be eased.

On March 8, all pupils returned to schools in England.

Pupils in face masks
Face masks were required for some pupils as in-person classes restarted (Danny Lawson/PA)

On April 12, people could finally get a haircut, meet friends in a beer garden or go shopping.

Women in salon
Two women have their hair washed, separated by screens, at Terence Paul Hair Salon in Knutsford, Cheshire, as salons reopened (Martin Rickett/PA)
Girl outside toy shop
The joy is etched on the face of Nevaeah Peebles as Hamleys toy shop on London’s Regent Street reopened (Victoria Jones/PA)
Man with beer
John Witts enjoys a drink at the reopening of the Figure of Eight pub in Birmingham (Jacob King/PA)

From May 17, people were finally able to hug one another again as indoor socialising and physical contact was permitted to resume.

On the same day, cinemas, theatres and museums reopened, pubs and restaurants welcomed customers back indoors and the ban on foreign holidays ended as the traffic light system of travel restrictions was brought in.

People queue to get on plane
The green light for travel to ‘green list’ destinations saw sun-seekers immediately snap up flights (Gareth Fuller/PA)

But at the same time, the Delta variant of the virus spread across Britain and quickly became the dominant strain.

On June 14, Boris Johnson was forced to delay the planned full easing of all restrictions expected to have taken place later that month to July 19 to allow for yet more people to be vaccinated.

Boris Johnson
Mr Johnson told a Downing Street briefing it was ‘sensible to wait just a little longer’ amid concerns the Delta wave could lead to thousands of deaths (Jonathan Buckmaster/Daily Express/PA)

But on July 19, social distancing rules which had been in place in one form or another for more than a year were lifted. Face coverings were no longer mandatory in England – though that remained the case in other parts of the UK – limits on gatherings were gone and the work from home guidance ended.

Nightclub revellers were unable to contain their glee as the final restrictions were lifted (Ioannis Alexopoulos/PA)
People on beach
It coincided with a heatwave for many, so people were able to enjoy their new freedoms in blazing sunshine (Steve Parsons/PA)

By late summer and into the autumn, case numbers across the UK soared thanks to the Delta variant, though hospital admissions and deaths were a fraction of what they were prior to the vaccination rollout.

But at the end of September, the booster campaign got under way amid fears the jab’s efficacy was waning.

Margaret Keenan
Margaret Keenan, 91 – who was the first person in the world to be vaccinated – was at the front of the queue for her booster shot (Jacob King/PA)

By mid-November, boosters were being offered to more and more sections of society as health officials warned of “bumpy” months ahead during winter.

Leaders appeared confident people could fully enjoy the run-up to Christmas and all the festive season entails, with pantos, parties, large family gatherings and all the things people missed at Christmas 2020 now permitted.

But before November was out, the more transmissible Omicron variant emerged in South Africa, quickly spreading across the globe and forcing the UK Government to implement its Plan B for tackling coronavirus.

Christmas shopper in face mask
Faces masks returned on public transport and in shops in England – though they had never left in other parts of the UK – new isolation rules for international travellers were brought in and close contacts of Omicron cases were ordered to isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Vaccination centre
The booster rollout was accelerated, with everyone urged to get themselves protected as soon as possible and massive jab hubs reopened (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Woman in face mask
As Christmas neared, people were urged to limit their socialising and test themselves regularly before meeting others (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

People were allowed to spend Christmas Day with friends and family as they had planned, but as the year drew to a close nightclubs were closed once again in Wales and leaders in all corners of the country suggested 2022 may start with further restrictions being imposed to deal with the feared “tidal wave” of Omicron.

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