Looking Back on Lockdown – December
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The month began with good news on the vaccine front, but ended with a disappointing return to lockdown conditions.
Dr Jonathan Whiteside, clinical lead for critical care, became the first person to be vaccinated against Covid-19 within NHS Highland.
Dr Tim Allison, director of public health, was "delighted" as the vaccine programme started within the region but warned people it would take time to roll out and it was still important to observe social distancing and all the other safety measures.
There was more disruption to learning as Bishop Eden Primary in Inverness closed until after the Christmas holidays after a positive Covid case there.
Pupils from two other city primaries – Central and Smithton – were also told to self-isolate due to Covid-19, as were Charleston Academy pupils using a school bus from Struy.
Shocking new figures showed that unemployment in the Highlands had almost doubled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March.
While, region-wide, jobless figures climbed by 97 per cent over the period, in Inverness it was even worse, with a rise of 116 per cent in those out of work.
The number of Highlanders aged 16-64 seeking work was estimated to be 6567 – before March it was 3322.
In Inverness the jobless total rose from 1511 to 3265.
Highland Council admitted Covid had triggered a "crisis" in the region's labour market and the outlook for 2021 appeared even more bleak.
Churches joined forces to ensure people could still enjoy a Christmas carol service and readings despite the pandemic.
Two combined services put together by 12 city churches of different denominations were to go out online as daily messages of hope were also shared virtually.
Chris Dowling, co-pastor of King's Fellowship at Smithton, said: "There is talk this year of Christmas being cancelled – it is not – but the way we do things might have to change."
The Inverness City Centre Heroes Awards recognised just some of those who had shone a light in a very difficult year.
Organised by Highland Council, the Inverness Common Good Fund, Inverness BID and Inverness Courier publisher Highland News and Media (HNM) there were awards this year for street cleaner Martin MacDougall, who used his own money to buy activity packs for children during lockdown; charity Inverness Foodstuff, based at Ness Bank Church, which provided thousands of meals to the homeless and vulnerable; and Morrisons Inverness community champions who delivered food supplies to many community organisations and food banks.
HNM publisher Steve Barron said: "We're delighted to shine the spotlight of publicity on these well-deserving individuals and organisations.
"The positive impact they have had on the city centre and beyond during this year is something they should all be very proud of.
"They are an inspiration to us all."
Unable to host its annual senior citizens' Christmas party this year, pupils at Glen Urquhart High School nevertheless made sure local elderly residents did not miss out on a bit of festive cheer entirely, teaming up with school staff and community volunteers to organise deliveries of afternoon tea for older people in Balnain, Cannich and Drumnadrochit instead.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the whole of mainland Scotland was to be placed under level four restrictions from Boxing Day in response to a new, faster spreading strain of Covid-19.
In an emergency press conference she explained this would mean all non-essential retail outlets would have to close, along with pubs, restaurants, cafés and most leisure facilities.
All holiday accommodation was also set to close.
Councillor Alasdair Christie, deputy leader of Highland Council, believed the region could have been treated as an exception.
"Why didn't we close the A9, the A82 and the A96 and put more severe travel restrictions in place? he asked.
Chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Stewart Nicol, said: "The timing could not be worse."
There were fears the new lockdown could last at least three weeks – though, of course, it would eventually continue for much longer than that.