The view from London as the world turns away

People queue outside a Waitrose supermarket in Harrow, London, as new Tier 4 Covid-19 restrictions threaten shop supplies.

We are publishing personal essays from CNN's global staff as they live and cover the story of Covid-19. Nick Paton Walsh is CNN's International Security Editor, based in London.

London (CNN)The days are meant to get longer now. Even if many Britons wish they would not.

Here, we had expected chaos at the end of 2020, but hoped that it would be self-inflicted -- from the nationalistic roll of the dice at the end of the Brexit transition period, when new trading rules kick in as the UK begins a new relationship with the EU.
But not this chaos from nature, cutting the UK off from the rest of the world with such pace and fear. Countries our government used to advise us not to travel to now say we're not welcome anyway. Haulage trucks line up at Dover, no longer practicing for an altogether more predictable and avoidable Brexit drama. Shop shelves are emptying, while queues form outside supermarkets, as if the government's "do not panic" mantra has now become the loudest alarm bell.
    Each lockdown has felt different. The first gave central London a ghostly and surreal new sheen amid the sirens. The second was barely noticeable, as businesses made labored justifications as to why they could stay open. The third, so far, is a little more desperate. Masks are more commonly seen outdoors. We simply do not know when it will end.
      The South Bank has mostly lone runners on walkways that were packed just two weeks ago. Still, on the first day of this new lockdown, called Tier 4, I ran past a spiced cider stall that was open, and a photo shoot happening under the London Eye. You are allowed to work, after all, however you define that.
      In Britain, concluding that the government has no idea what it's doing is no longer the outlier choice of the conspiracy theorist, but an evidence-based assessment. Again and again, a decision point arrives for the Johnson administration, and a path is taken. It is criticized as wildly illogical or risky, even in the pandering tabloid press. And then it is hurriedly reversed -- normally at the very last moment possible.
      Johnson first downplayed COVID-19, then acted late to suppress it, caught it, was hospitalized by it, got sympathetic poll numbers from it. Then he failed to test and trace for it, or even test enough for it, and said it would go away by Christmas. Then he dragged the country through a lockdown he had also said earlier would be devastating and unnecessary, and then finally canceled a Christmas he had said days