The Coronavirus Lockdown in Belfast

It started as something on the other side of the planet, of little interest here, but it’s come to dominate all our lives for months. The Coronavirus pandemic is frequently described as a once-in-a-lifetime event, unprecedented, and certainly nobody will be forgetting it any time soon. Tens of thousands have lost their lives in the UK and Ireland.

As a photographer, when lockdown inevitably came, I missed the ability to travel and take photographs. But then I realised that there was a unique opportunity here, to document Belfast as it had never been seen before. I took every opportunity I could - within the bounds of social distancing rules - to photograph the city in lockdown.

At least someone working in this cafe closed by the virus had a sense of humour about the situation.

No Confessions or Holy Water in this city centre church, just before full lockdown was introduced.

 As the situation worsened even the churches were forced to close.

Some venues took ad hoc measures to attempt social distancing.  But soon there were to be no customers.

23rd of March and full lockdown is announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Several weeks later he would be fighting for his life in intensive care, having contracted the virus.

Virtually overnight Cornmarket, right in the centre of Belfast, and usually bustling with shoppers, became eerily quiet.

The emptiness was unsettling.  No people, no cars, no life. Even the dummies in shop windows looked perturbed.

Queuing for groceries became a fact-of-life; all other non-essential  shops were closed.

Interpretations of what constituted 2 metres  - the proscribed social distance - varied wildly.

Good luck getting any toilet rolls when you eventually did get in. On the bright side, you could still buy a solitary bottle of Baby Bio, so your houseplants would be happy, at least.

With everything closed there was plenty of time for reading  -  about other plagues and other lockdowns.

Belfast city centre began to feel a little unsafe. As almost all shops were closed there was little reason to be there; most people who were there seemed to be drunk or on drugs, and had begun to gang together in a distinctly dystopian manner. I found myself being careful about where I walked, and using my eyes and ears to avoid potential dangers.

Police cars and ambulances seemed to be everywhere. The wail of the siren was the theme tune of lockdown.

On Easter Sunday, as I walked around a deserted city centre, I suddenly heard voices singing somewhere in the distance. Venturing down a small side street I discovered these worshippers singing hymns in front of an outdoor shrine to the Virgin Mary. The church may have been locked, but they were determined to mark the occasion. 

Where have all the people gone? The mural on this empty street in the city centre seemed to mourn the missing humans.

Sitting on park benches in the sunshine - and there was plenty of sunshine - became a crime.

Death stalks the streets - though he’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to carry off. No wonder the man is looking over his shoulder.

Don’t touch! The long term impact of having been told for months that contact with other people is dangerous remains to be seen.

After several months, shop windows were starting to look a little disheveled; even some of the dummies had had enough, it seemed.

Discarded plastic gloves littered the streets, replacing the usual detritus of a busy city.

We all became used to placemats indicating where we should stand. And piles of mail at the doors of businesses that hadn’t been open in months.

No city for old folk. But maybe there was nowhere else to go.

Gradually lockdown began to ease. This was a sure sign of a return to normality; a seagull and a pigeon fighting over a discarded chip carton. Something unthinkable a few weeks earlier.

Normal life is beginning to emerge from the shadows cast by Coronavirus. How long the shadows linger - and what the danger of a second wave of the virus is- remains to be seen.

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