'We did it together': PM commends UK's endurance through year of lockdowns

23 March 2021, 17:29 | Updated: 23 March 2021, 21:56

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has praised the British public for coming together and showing "endurance" through a year of lockdowns in which "we've suffered so many losses".

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, the prime minister hailed the nation's spirit as he commemorated a year since the country went into its first coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Johnson said: "When I asked you to go into lockdown exactly a year ago, it seemed incredible that in the 21st Century, this was the only way to fight a new respiratory disease: to stay at home, to avoid human contact, to shun so many of the patterns of behaviour that are most natural and obvious to all of us.

"But, we did it together. To protect the NHS, to save lives and for the entire British people, it's been an epic of endurance and privation.

"Of children's birthday parties cancelled, of weddings postponed, of family gatherings of all kind simply deleted from the diary.

"And worst of all, in that time, we've suffered so many losses and for so many people, our grief has been made more acute because we've not been able to see our loved ones in their final days, to hold their hands or even to mourn them together."

Read more: Nation falls silent to remember victims of Covid-19

Read more: Royals lead tributes as UK marks year since first Covid lockdown

Boris Johnson hailed the UK's courage through a year of lockdowns
Boris Johnson hailed the UK's courage through a year of lockdowns. Picture: PA

The prime minister said the country will come together "at the right moment... to build a fitting and a permanent memorial to the loved ones we've lost and to commemorate this whole period".

He added that the nation is "step by step, jab by jab" on the path to "reclaiming our freedoms".

Mr Johnson told the press briefing: "It's thanks to all of you, therefore, that we can continue on our road map to freedom.

"We will meet our targets, offering a first dose to everyone over 50 by the middle of next month, as well as those under 50 who are clinically vulnerable, and offering a first dose of a vaccine to every adult by the end of July.

"And cautiously but irreversibly, step by step, jab by jab, this country is on the path to reclaiming our freedoms."

Lockdown Anniversary: A timeline of the coronavirus pandemic

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Mr Johnson then said we must be "very wary" of the potential for a third wave of Covid-19, when asked by a member of the public how the government is planning to stop the spread from Europe into the UK.

He told reporters: "On the European continent we are seeing distinct signs of a third wave and they're taking steps to abate that, to deal with that.

"And we in the UK have very tough measures at our borders already."

He added: "As for your point about lorry drivers (being tested) and hotel quarantine for absolutely everybody, we keep - I want to be clear with the public - we keep all these measures under review. In so far as it's necessary to take extra measures to protect this country against new variants, variants of concern, of course we're going to do that."

The PM also conceded that "there are probably many things that we wish that we'd known and many things that we wish we'd done differently" through the pandemic.

He said: "The single biggest false assumption that we made was about the potential for asymptomatic transmission and that did govern a lot of policy in the early days, or that misunderstanding about the reality of asymptomatic transmission certainly led to real problems that we then had to work very, very hard to make up ground."

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance added that having adequate testing in place at the beginning of the pandemic would have made a "big difference".

Mr Johnson said lessons will be learned for future pandemics, as he was asked whether the government should have imposed lockdown sooner.

Speaking at the briefing, he said: "These are very hard decisions and there are no good outcomes either way.

"All these consequences are very tough for people and all I can say is we took all the decisions with the interest of the British people foremost in our hearts and in an effort to protect the public and prevent death and suffering.

"Though doubtless there will be a moment to properly review, to learn lessons for future pandemics of a kind which I'm sure there will be."