The occasional fireworks display and rainbow of lasers light up the skies, and upbeat taxi drivers line up in the rows downtown.
But the bars are closed, the restaurants have their shutters closed, and the nightclubs are quiet. Only takeaways are open, with their customers returning home with familiar white plastic bags to the eerily quiet streets.
On any other New Year’s Eve, those same streets were teeming with people. The downtown area is said to entertain tens of thousands of revelers. Bars and restaurants take hundreds of thousands of pounds on one of their busiest nights of the year.
And bubbles would only be mentioned when talking about champagne.
But not in 2020.
Level 4 means “stay at home”. No one can meet other people inside unless they live with them or are part of a supportive bubble.
This means that all celebrations should be small and private.
If someone breaks the rules, they can be fined, and West Midlands Police, like forces across the country, are responsible for enforcing the restrictions.
Inspector Richard Cox is the bronze commander of the evening, coordinating a hundred officers. Many of them are part of the Operational Support Unit, or OSU, trained in handling public order incidents, home searches and football matches.
“Our main goal is to use the four Es that were designed in response to the pandemic,” he says.
“First to engage with the public, then to explain the rules, to educate people on how they should behave, and finally only to enforce the law with fines. ”
We are on patrol with PC Dave Grossett.
Closing parties may not have been what he was committed to, but he knows it is important work as the country continues to experience increasingly high infection rates.
“Nobody joins the police to separate families, we prefer to bring people together,” he said.
“But these are very difficult times, and we know the rules are not there to victimize people, they are there to protect the most vulnerable. ”
Minutes after leaving the police station, the radio chats with information about a number of places where restrictions are potentially being violated.
Each incident, whether related to COVID or not, is assigned a “P” number from one to nine to indicate the severity of the violation. P1 is the highest level and requires participation within 15 minutes.
The first call we’re headed for is classified P3, with reports to police suggesting a gathering of more than 30 people in the garden of a property in Tividale, near Dudley.
We arrive at the same time as another team of four officers, only to find that the group had already been dispersed by community support workers, without any action being taken.
The digital operation log is constantly updated with incidents: a pub in West Bromwich where lights and music were reported; 12 people celebrating in the front garden and on the road in front of a house in Solihull; a house party in Birmingham city center which was reported by several neighbors; a group of men having a barbecue inside an industrial unit.
At 10 p.m., more than 100 recordings were recorded. Almost all of them are small house parties that quickly disperse. Some are legitimate gatherings. Some have been falsely or maliciously reported. But everything still needs to be monitored and verified.
We are heading towards the city center to follow the reports that a group of 40 to 50 young people have gathered.
They quickly disperse and a group of stragglers, some wearing sequined evening dresses ill-suited to sub-zero temperatures, are given face masks by police before using one of the taxis whose driver’s optimism is has borne fruit.
It is not clear whether they were heading to or from a party. The next call suggests it was the first.
In a nearby building, we manage to find ten or more agents attending a party of at least 35 young people.
Names, ages and addresses are taken, some given more easily than others, then the young people receive dispersal notices and are sent home. Their age will determine whether or not they receive fixed penalty notices in the coming days.
As we continue to drive on residential streets, it seems the vast majority of people are sticking to the rules.
But nearly 300 incidents reported at midnight suggest not everyone was ready to comply with the restrictions.
Some don’t believe in compliance, others don’t believe in COVID. Some just believe they will get away with it.
However, all of them have chosen to behave in ways that medical professionals believe could ultimately cost lives.