It was a miserable Christmas for millions of Britons last year that saw them stuck at home, banned from socialising with other families and even barred from visiting dying loved ones.
But the Government has now caused mass fury after a video emerged of officials joking about a ‘fictional’ lockdown-busting party they insist never happened just days before Christmas Day.
It came as Gavin Williamson was accused of holding a Christmas party for ‘up to two dozen people’ within the Department for Education offices in contravention of Covid-19 social distancing rules at the time.
Here, MailOnline looks at what parties happened when and how the rules were changing for London at the time:
DECEMBER 2, 2020 – LONDON ENTERS TIER 2
Dr David Weir, a respiratory consultant at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, died from Covid-19 on December 3
On December 2, London entered Tier 2 restrictions following the second national lockdown. The tier system had begun on October 14, and the second lockdown ran from November 5 to December 1.
Tier 2 meant the area was on a ‘high alert’ for coronavirus, with the Government saying it showed it has a ‘higher or rapidly rising level of infections, where some additional restrictions need to be in place’.
It banned social mixing indoors between households. People were not allowed to socialise with anyone they did not live with or who was not in their support bubble in an indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place.
However people were still allowed to see friends and family outdoors in private gardens or public spaces. The limitation was that you could not socialise in a group of more than six outside, which was called the ‘rule of six’.
People could only go inside a pub with members of their own household, and the venues were only allowed to serve alcohol with ‘substantial meals’. People could sit outside a pub with members of other households within the ‘rule of six’, but the same rules apply regarding alcohol. Restaurants were allowed to open under the same rules.
There was some confusion over the definition of a substantial meal, with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick suggesting that a Cornish pasty would only fall within the rules if it came on a plate with a salad or chips. The widely-accepted definition was that it had to be a proper meal, rather than crisps, nuts or other bar snacks.
Customers enjoy drinks outside a restaurant in London on December 2 last year as the capital entered Tier 2 restrictions
DECEMBER 10 – DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION PARTY
Gavin Williamson was accused of holding a Christmas party for ‘up to two dozen people’ within the Department for Education at their offices in contravention of Covid-19 social distancing rules at the time.
The then education secretary allegedly threw a party and delivered a short speech at the event on December 10 last year, which took place while London was in Tier 2 – banning any indoor social mixing between households.
Amid claims in the Daily Mirror that the event featured drinks and canapés, the Government said the gathering involved staff who were ‘already present at the office and who had worked together throughout the pandemic’.
Mr Williamson is said to have spoken at the evening event before ministers ‘mingled’ and drank wine. One source described it as ‘reckless’, and the DfE has admitted that the social gathering took place.
Officials also said the gathering was ‘used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic’, although they ‘accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time’.
A source said: ‘There were lots of people gathered in the cafe area, mingling and drinking wine.’ Another added: ‘He hosted a drinks do when people were considering whether they could spend Christmas with their families.’
A DfE spokesman told MailOnline: ‘On December 10, 2020 a gathering of colleagues who were already present at the office – and who had worked together throughout the pandemic, as they couldn’t work from home – took place in the DfE office building in London at a time when the city was subject to Tier 2 restrictions.
‘The gathering was used to thank those staff for their efforts during the pandemic. Drinks and snacks were brought by those attending and no outside guests or supporting staff were invited or present. While this was work-related, looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.’
Former education secretary Gavin Williamson is pictured outside Downing Street on November 25 this year
DECEMBER 16 – LONDON ENTERS TIER 3
London moved into Tier 3 on December 16 which was defined as a ‘very high’ alert level for areas with a very high or very rapidly rising level of infections, where tighter restrictions are in place.
Tier 3 was the highest level of the three-tier system at the time – although a new Tier 4 was added just days later. The Tier 3 system banned people from seeing their friends and family indoors or in private gardens.
People could only socialise in groups of up to six people in other outdoor public spaces, including parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, a public garden, grounds of a heritage site or castle, or a sports facility.
Pubs and restaurants all had to shut, except for takeaway. Indoor attractions and entertainment venues had to close, although indoor shops, through-ways and public toilets at such attractions could remain open.
Londoners browse Old Spitalfields Market in London on December 17, the day after the capital entered Tier 3 restrictions
DECEMBER 18 – DOWNING STREET’S ALLEGED PARTY
Hospital porter Andrew Woolhouse, 55, from Cardiff died of Covid-19 on January 23 this year, having tested positive on December 17 four days after receiving his first vaccine
Boris Johnson is alleged to have held a lockdown-busting party at Downing Street on December 18 when all indoor social mixing between people from different households was banned in London.
Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged bash complied with the rules in place at the time, despite coming under pressure since an initial report in the Daily Mirror.
The newspaper said two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Mr Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November’s lockdown.
The other was said to be the staff party on December 18 where party games were played, food and drinks were served, and revelries went on past midnight.
At the time, the Tier 3 rules explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it is ‘a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted’ – and many families were even barred from visiting dying loved ones.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Openreach Training Centre in Bolton, Greater Manchester, on December 18 last year
DECEMBER 19 – BORIS JOHNSON CANCELS CHRISTMAS
Boris Johnson held a dramatic press conference on December 19 putting London into a new Tier 4 and effectively cancelling the Christmas plans of millions of people who had hoped to form ‘Christmas bubbles’.
The Prime Minister said London and other areas in southern England under Tier 3 would move to Tier 4 which was a ‘stay at home’ order that required non-essential shops, hairdressers and indoor leisure venues to shut.
People outside Tier 4 areas were still allowed to have ‘Christmas bubbles’ formed of different households but only for one day instead of the full period between December 23 and December 27 as had been originally planned.
In a grim press conference at Downing Street watched by millions of disappointed Britons, Mr Johnson said: ‘It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot proceed with Christmas as planned.
The Prime Minister said he had decided there was ‘no alternative open to me’, adding: ‘I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren. But when the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence.’
Boris Johnson cancels Christmas for millions of people during a Downing Street press conference on December 19 last year
DECEMBER 20 – LONDON OFFICIALLY ENTERS TIER 4
Tier 4 meant people from different households could not mix, apart from support bbles and two people meeting in public outdoor spaces. Essential shops could remain open but all non-essential retail had to close.
The new rules came in at midnight on December 20, meaning many Britons faced a last-minute dash to buy Christmas gifts and deliver them to relatives after Boris Johnson announced them with just several hours’ notice.
Tier 4 also banned people from staying overnight away from home with limited exceptions, while weddings were only allowed to continue in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and only for up to six people.
An almost empty Oxford Street on December 20 after London moved into Tier 4 hours after the PM’s announcement
DECEMBER 22 – JOKES ABOUT DOWNING STREET PARTY
Project worker Babatunde Elemosho, 62, from Manchester, died with Covid-19 in hospital on December 23
Last night a video emerged of the Prime Minister’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton giggling and joking about a Downing Street party during a mock media conference which No 10 officials insist never happened.
The footage, which was leaked to ITV News, was filmed last December 22 – four days after the alleged ‘boozy’ party and when London was under strict Tier 3 coronavirus curbs.
The damning clip shows Miss Stratton, who is still on the No 10 payroll earning £125,000 a year, and aides joking about cheese and wine and suggesting the ‘fictional’ event was ‘not socially distanced’.
Miss Stratton was practising for planned TV media briefings, which were later axed. At the time of the alleged event, on December 18, Christmas parties were outlawed – on pain of £10,000 fines.
The video has prompted huge criticism of the Government today – with NHS palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke among those left angered. She tweeted: ‘At exactly the time they laughed and laughed, I was palliating the symptoms of patients dying of Covid in hospital. This video – and this government – couldn’t be more callous.’
Separately, a video emerged of No 10 officials joking about another lockdown-busting party. It shows Boris Johnson’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton giggling and laughing as she is asked about the event during a mock media conference
JANUARY 6 – ENGLAND ENTERS THIRD NATIONAL LOCKDOWN
Night porter Joseph Araneta, 50, from Eltham, South East London, died of Covid-19 on January 3
England’s third national lockdown legally came into force on January 6 this year, with MPs voting retrospectively on it later. The measures included a national stay-at-home order and schools being closed to most pupils.
The phased exit from this lockdown began on March 8 when schools reopened. From March 29 outdoor gatherings of up to six people from different households were permitted, or a bigger group from two households.
The next step on April 12 saw outdoor attractions reopened along with hospitality in outdoor settings, before the further unlocking on May 17 when indoor socialising, hospitality and indoor attractions were permitted again.
On July 19, most legal restrictions ended, which removed social distancing and social contact restrictions and enabling the remaining businesses such as nightclubs to reopen. This move had been delayed from June 21.
People walk past an information sign notifying people about the national lockdown in Staines-upon-Thames on January 6