The Covid storm cloud that loomed large over 2021 - in pictures

People celebrate being able to eat and drink with friends in outdoor settings in April. Credit: PA

Despite 2021 starting in a lockdown with worries over the new Delta variant, it was the year everyone had big hopes for.

But the dark cloud of coronavirus hung over Britain throughout the year, and many areas ended with yet more restrictions in place as the new, more infectious Omicron variant threatened the festive season.

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.

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

But unlike the previous lockdowns, there was hope that the creation of a new vaccine and the rollout of the vaccine would provide a solution to the pandemic.

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 said the vaccination drive was the best way out of the restrictions, as he urged people to accept their jab offers Credit: 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.

Face masks were required for some pupils as in-person classes restarted Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

On April 12, restaurants and pubs were allowed to operate outdoors. People could finally get a haircut, meet friends in a beer garden or go shopping.

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

From May 17, people were finally able to hug one another again and meet inside homes as indoor socialising and physical contact was allowed.

On the same day, cinemas, theatres and museums reopened, pubs and restaurants could operate indoors and the ban on holidays abroad ended as the traffic light system of travel restrictions was introduced.

The green light for travel to ‘green list’ destinations saw sun-seekers immediately snap up flights Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

At the same time, the Delta variant of Covid-19 was spreading across the UK and quickly became the dominant strain.

On June 14, Boris Johnson was forced to delay the June 21 'Freedom Day' - when all restrictions would be eased - to July 19 to allow for yet more young people to be vaccinated.

Boris Johnson told a Downing Street briefing it was ‘sensible to wait just a little longer’ amid concerns of the Delta wave Credit: Jonathan Buckmaster/Daily Express/PA

On July 19, social distancing rules which had been in place for more than a year were finally lifted.

Face masks 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 Credit: Ioannis Alexopoulos/PA
It coincided with a heatwave for many, so people were able to enjoy their new freedoms in blazing sunshine Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

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

At the end of September, the UK began providing third booster jabs amid fears the vaccine protection was waning for those who were jabbed earlier in the year.

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 Credit: Jacob King/PA

By mid-November, boosters were being offered to more and more people 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 in the last Christmas.

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

The booster rollout was accelerated, with everyone urged to get themselves protected as soon as possible and massive jab hubs reopened Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA
As Christmas neared, people were urged to limit their socialising and test themselves regularly before meeting others Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

People began cancelling get-togethers in the run-up to Christmas, over concerns about bringing the virus home to family on the festive day.

Nonetheless, they were still were allowed to spend Christmas Day with friends and family as they had planned.

But as the year drew to a close, many nightclubs had to close once again in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Leaders in all four nations of the UK suggested 2022 may start with further restrictions to deal with the feared “tidal wave” of Omicron.