SO the sun finally sets on the year that never was.

When the people of Antrim and Newtownabbey raised their glasses to celebrate the start of a new decade this time last year, who would have believed that it would end with face masks, with curfews, with families unable to share the festive season together and with too many empty chairs around too many Christmas tables?

Yes, the scourge of COVID-19 has cast a long and impossibly dark shadow over local life.

By December 18 the pandemic had hastened the death of 151 people across the Borough.

Each and every one was a profound tragedy for the families involved and the Borough is undoubtedly a poorer place for their passing. But while much was lost, much was gained.

Amidst the towering grief, the resilience of the people of Antrim and Newtownabbey stood as a beacon of hope.

Instead of barricading themselves away from an invisible foe, a true community spirit flourished. This was not every man for himself, it was neighbours looking out for their neighbours.

Meals were prepared, groceries delivered, prescriptions collected - all to protect those most at risk.

Clearly moved by the heart-breaking stories of love and loss, people were responding with courage and compassion.

Equally inspirational were the efforts of the local heroes manning the front lines - the teachers, the shop workers, the postal staff and, of course, our NHS workers.

All went far beyond the call of duty, putting themselves in harm’s way to help others.

And now the vaccines are arriving. The nightmare may soon be over, but as we look ahead to 2021 none will forget the difficult journey we have shared.

COVID has changed everything - for better and worse.

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