Boris Johnson reflects on ‘dark and difficult year’ as nation remembers Covid victims

23 March 2021, 00:44 | Updated: 23 March 2021, 11:14

It is a year since the UK's first coronavirus lockdown
It is a year since the UK's first coronavirus lockdown. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has reflected on "a very dark and difficult year" for the nation as he met with Cabinet ministers on the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown.

It comes as people across the UK prepare to hold a minute's silence at 12pm, followed by a bell toll, as part of a national day of reflection to remember those who have died since the virus reached the nation's shores.

People are also being encouraged to stand on their doorsteps at 8pm with phones, candles and torches lit to signify a "beacon of remembrance".

The event is organised by the end-of-life charity Marie Curie.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The PM began Cabinet by reflecting on what he said had been a very dark and difficult year for our country.

"The PM said that we mourn all those we have lost and send our deepest sympathies to their families, friends and loved ones.

"The PM said the last year had also shown the great strengths of the British public, which had demonstrated such resilience and fortitude, and had shown such willingness to work together for a common good."

Mr Johnson and his Cabinet also were said to have paid tribute to the "extraordinary service" of NHS and social care workers, as well as those in the public sector.

He also praised the "absolutely astonishing achievement" of British scientists and businesses in developing a vaccine and delivering it to half the adult population within a year.

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The UK's day of reflection is being supported by more than 250 organisations, including 82 leaders from religious groups and cross-party politicians, care organisations, charities, businesses, emergency services, public sector bodies and community groups.

Mr Johnson, who will observe the minute's silence privately, earlier said: "The last 12 months has taken a huge toll on us all, and I offer my sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones.

"Today, the anniversary of the first lockdown, is an opportunity to reflect on the past year - one of the most difficult in our country's history.

"We should also remember the great spirit shown by our nation over this past year. We have all played our part, whether it's working on the front line as a nurse or carer, working on vaccine development and supply, helping to get that jab into arms, home schooling your children, or just by staying at home to prevent the spread of the virus.

"It's because of every person in this country that lives have been saved, our NHS was protected, and we have started on our cautious road to easing restrictions once and for all."

As of Monday, 126,172 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus, while data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed there had been 146,487 deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

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According to the latest available data from the ONS, there have been 618,676 deaths from all causes registered in England and Wales between 21 March 2020 and the week ending 5 March 2021.

The Health Foundation calculates that those who died with Covid-19 have lost up to 10 years of life on average, with a total of up to 1.5 million potential years of life lost.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England strategic response director for Covid-19, said: "This virus has left no one untouched and it has been the most challenging time both personally and professionally that many of us have ever faced.

"I want to say thank you today to all the public health professionals and key workers who have worked long and difficult hours to help keep the country safe. The commitment you have shown is an inspiration to us all."

Rachel Reeves, Labour's shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, added: "Today we reflect on what has been a terrible year for our country and the huge sacrifices the British people have made.

"Our thoughts in particular are with those families who have lost loved ones to this terrible virus and will still be grieving.

"As we reflect on the past year, we owe it to those whose lives have been lost to learn the lessons from the pandemic and to build a stronger more secure future for our country. A public inquiry into the pandemic will be key to this."

London's skyline will turn yellow to mark the anniversary, with landmarks including the London Eye, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium lighting up at nightfall.

Other notable buildings that will be illuminated include Cardiff Castle and Belfast City Hall, while churches and cathedrals will toll bells, light thousands of candles and offer prayers.

In Portsmouth, churches will deliver more than 50 boxes of chocolates and cards to local GP surgeries, care homes and schools to thank key workers for their pandemic efforts.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: "This day of reflection is an opportunity to pause and remember all that's happened over the past year, to mourn those who have died but also to give thanks for those who have looked after us and our communities.

"It is a moment to pray together to our Father in Heaven to comfort us in our grief and to lead us into the hope of the risen Christ and the eternal life he promises.

"As we reflect on the pandemic, may he strengthen our resolve to rebuild a kinder, fairer and more compassionate society, may he be with those who are struggling and may he guide us in honouring those we have lost over the past year."

Lending his support to the national day of reflection, Charles the Prince of Wales, who is a patron of Marie Curie, said: "Whatever our faith or philosophy may be, let us take a moment together to remember those who have been lost, to give thanks for their lives, and to acknowledge the inexpressible pain of parting.

"In their memory, let us resolve to work for a future inspired by our highest values, that have been displayed so clearly by the people of this country through this most challenging of times."

Nursing staff will also pause to say thank you to members of the public for their year of sacrifice, and remember the loss of friends, colleagues and patients.

Nursing leader Dame Donna Kinnair said: "After a year of sacrifices and gestures, great and small, we are taking our turn to thank the public. In a time of loss and fear, they helped us to keep digging deeper.

"We will take a day to remember and reflect - as much about the future we want as the year we've had."