Gregg Easteal: a tale of three cities in the year of Covid

Gregg Easteal

Correspondent, ITV News Tyne Tees

The deserted streets of York at the height of the national lockdown in the Spring. Credit: PA Images

2020 for me is a tale of three cities. In fact they're all the same city, but over three visits this year York felt like three different planets.

My first trip there was at the end of January when a hotel in the city ended up being the first place in the country with two confirmed cases of something called Coronavirus.

No need to panic. Nothing to worry about. A very nasty illness from China but the advice then was that the risk to public health was very low.

About eight short weeks later and everything had changed.

York, a city I'd known for thirty years was nothing like any city I'd ever seen before. It was a scorching, beautiful sunny morning.

Normally on days like these you'd expect to see people thronging to the Museum Gardens, idly licking at ice creams and speculating on how long the unusually pleasant spring weather might last.

That day, two days into lockdown, there was barely a soul in the whole city centre. And the only thing people were speculating about was how long this whole strange, silent, stay at home saga would last.

The government initially said about three weeks.

I remember boldly announcing to anyone listening in the newsroom that it would surely be more like six weeks before things were back to normal.

How wrong we all were, myself included.

My third visit to York was just days ago as the tier two capital of North Yorkshire was trying to have something like a familiar festive season.

The shops, bars and restaurants were open but this was no normal Christmas. Look closely and people in the season of coming together were keeping apart.

The city's ancient Minster, usually thronging with local tourists and locals, stands empty in March, 2020. Credit: PA Images

No household mixing. No knocking off early for lunchtime drinks with workmates.

Must have masks much more the order of the day than snapping up a must have handbag before heading out to a party.

It was Christmas but through a warped mirror than I suspect many afterwards will be happy to forget.

My last stop before I left the city though lifted my mood massively - it was to a newly opened vaccination centre.

A lovely couple, who looked like they were in their eighties, stopped me and asked for directions to the entrance.

They smiled and headed off - looking forward no doubt to a day soon when they can hold their family close again.

It was a timely reminder at the end of a savagely downbeat week that we have every reason to think this thing will now be beaten; we just have to be patient.Of course I doubt my next visit to York will be normal or anywhere close.

But next Christmas is York has every chance I suspect of looking something like the city millions across the region know and love.

Here's to that... and a happy new year.


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