UK marks one year since first virus lockdown

Protesters march in cental London last weekend against restrictions imposed during the third coronavirus lockdown
Protesters march in cental London last weekend against restrictions imposed during the third coronavirus lockdown Niklas HALLE'N AFP
Advertising

London (AFP)

Britain on Tuesday marks the anniversary of its first coronavirus lockdown with a "National Day of Reflection", which will see parliament hold a minute's silence in tribute to the more than 126,000 people who have died.

"A year on, it is right that we take a moment to reflect on what we as a nation have been through," said Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons.

"None of us has escaped the ordeal of Covid-19 -- from the shock of having our liberty taken away, to the heartbreak of losing someone we loved," he added.

Lawmakers from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords will fall silent to pay tribute to "the many lives lost and the families that mourn them" and to thank frontline health workers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered an initial three-week lockdown on March 23, 2020 as the pandemic took hold, shutting "non-essential" shops and services, and banning gatherings of more than two people.

"From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction -- you must stay at home," Johnson told the nation a year ago.

"Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households."

The country's death toll at that time was 335. A year later it stands at 126,172.

Justifying his action at the time, the British leader called the pandemic "the biggest threat this country has faced for decades" and said the state-run National Health Service (NHS) would be unable to cope without radical measures.

- Third national lockdown -

On Tuesday, Johnson said the year that followed had "taken a huge toll on us all" and called the anniversary "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," he added.

Britain recorded its first coronavirus death on March 5, 2020, but was criticised for its light-touch approach to containing the spread compared to more stringent measures elsewhere.

The prime minister had promised to "turn the tide" of the outbreak within 12 weeks of the initial lockdown.

But a year later, Britain is now in its third national lockdown, having recently been hit by its latest and deadliest wave.

Schools have been closed, as have pubs, bars, nightclubs, theatres, cafes, and leisure centres, and mass gatherings have been banned.

However, restrictions are being loosened as the country's mass vaccination rollout drives down hospitalisations and deaths, with the government eyeing a return to normality by June 21.

The prime minister himself required treatment in intensive care after catching the virus shortly after announcing the first lockdown.

Johnson was in an ICU for three days and given oxygen, requiring Foreign Minister Dominic Raab to take over for three weeks during the darkest days of the first wave.

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, also caught the disease early in the pandemic, but said he "got away with it quite lightly", recovering over seven days at his Birkhall home on the royal Balmoral estate.