Millions of people in the UK will spend a historic Christmas Day largely kept apart from loved ones, united instead by the devastating health, social and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The country had hoped to be taking advantage of a five-day relaxation of social restrictions to meet family members and friends indoors.
But a new super-transmissible strain, believed to have originated in Kent, forced the Prime Minister to axe much of the planned rules hiatus over Christmas amid fears family get-togethers would see infection rates soar further.
Residents already in Tier 4 areas, such as those in south-east England and London, will not be able to meet with people outside their own household or support bubble.
© Provided by PA Media (PA Graphics)
It means just those in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 will be allowed to meet, limited to three households, on Christmas Day only.
Further woes await from a minute past midnight on Boxing Day when new tier changes come into force, meaning those under the strict Tier 4 in England will increase by six million to 24 million people. It will represent 43% of the population.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have already announced new lockdowns from Boxing Day, while Wales’s tough restrictions will only be eased for Christmas Day before being reimposed.
In the county of Kent, thousands of long-distance drivers will wake in the cabs of their lorries uncertain whether they will be allowed to embark on the long journey home after days of disruption at the Channel border.
The Army has been brought in to help the repatriation operation, caused by French authorities demanding drivers provide a negative coronavirus test before being permitted to cross the Channel.
Some have already spent nearly a week stranded due to the diplomatic impasse, although hundreds of lorries have been given clearance to leave the Port of Dover and return to France.
The Prime Minister said he had “never known a Christmas” like this one but said “sacrifices” made this year will keep people alive for next year’s festive period.
In a video posted on Twitter on Christmas Eve, he said: “In most years it’s a moment for togetherness and celebration in which the generations are jumbled together in the same household for days on end, pulling crackers and snogging under the mistletoe – you name it.
“And yet this year that is the one type of Christmas we simply cannot afford to have.”
© 2020 Joseph Okpako LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 24: Visitors take pictures at the Christmas tree installation in Hay’s Galleria on December 24, 2020 in London, England. Many Christmas events have been cancelled this year due to the Coronavirus Pandemic but London is festooned with Christmas Lights across the capital. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/Getty Images)
Mr Johnson said this Christmas was “not about presents, or turkey, or brandy butter” but about hope in the form of the Covid-19 vaccines being developed.
He added: “It’s thanks to the efforts of wise men and wise women in the east and elsewhere, we have a vaccine and we know that we are going to succeed in beating coronavirus, and that these privations that we’re going through are temporary and we know that next year really will be better.
“We know there will be people alive next Christmas, people we love, alive next Christmas precisely because we made the sacrifice and didn’t celebrate as normal this Christmas.”
Tens of thousands of people in the UK have died after testing positive for Covid-19 while more than two million have been infected, as the virus swept through the country, closing schools, businesses and pubs.