Tom Sheldrick: How the pandemic overshadowed all in 2020

31 January 2020 went down in history as the day Britain officially left the European Union. On that very same day, the UK's first coronavirus cases were confirmed - two family members who were staying in York, and taken to hospital in Newcastle. Those Brexit psychodramas soon seemed so trivial, in comparison to the pandemic's relentless, brutal, extraordinary impacts.

I started my new job down at Westminster in March, just in time for the Budget, which was I think the first staple of the political calendar dominated by Covid. Within a week, I was back home in Newcastle, isolating for a fortnight in line with new guidance after our son showed symptoms of the virus. By the time we were allowed out again, nobody was - lockdown was underway.

MPs were sent home, the government using emergency powers, and daily Downing Street press conferences to set out unprecedented levels of economic intervention - and constraints on all of our freedoms. Battling through public apathy can be a tough task when covering politics, but not this year. The pandemic has been impossible to ignore, shaping our everyday lives.

Covid's contradictions have seen us all kept apart, yet bound together in a collective endeavour, responsible for following the rules to protect one another. We clapped for carers, in solidarity. The gravity of the Prime Minister's own illness demonstrated how the virus is indiscriminate. We have all been in it together, but some more than others. Many of the North East's poorest communities have been particularly ravaged.

The new government had wanted to focus this year on 'levelling up' long-term inequalities around the country, but those plans have largely been put on hold, with the unfolding pandemic the overwhelming priority. There has been a degree of consensus, with opposition parties largely supporting the different forms of restrictions. A lot of public goodwill was destroyed by the revelations around Dominic Cummings' lockdown adventures in County Durham. Boris Johnson, his ministers and advisers have faced unenviable challenges but, while subsequent inquiries will dig deeper, it is difficult to argue that they have handled the crisis well in 2020.

At the start of lockdown, Tom regularly reported live from his living room Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

I was covering things through live reports from my living room, then a socially-distanced studio in Gateshead. I finally got back to Westminster in September, soon before the second wave of the virus took hold. This year has felt like a rollercoaster - every time things have looked up, they've taken a turn for the worse again. Grim statistics have almost become routine. It's been important to remember they speak of so many individual tragedies.

At the end of the longest of years, we have come back to talking about Brexit again. Even today though, as the trade deal is hurried through parliament, it's being upstaged by the latest coronavirus updates.

The start of 2021 feels like a high-stakes race between new strains and vaccines. Beyond that, it would be foolish to make any predictions.

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