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Nation falls silent to remember Covid-19 victims

People light candles during the National Day of Reflection at Lichfield Cathedral, on the anniversary of the first national lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Pic by Jacob King

By Jane Kirby and Emma Bowden, PA

People across the UK have taken part in a minute’s silence to remember Covid-19 victims, marking one year since the first lockdown began.

MPs and peers in both Houses of Parliament and ministers in the devolved nations marked the solemn anniversary at midday, while NHS and social care workers also joined the pause for reflection.

Cathedrals in Blackburn, Winchester, Gloucester and York Minster also fell silent in honour of those who have died during the pandemic.

The Queen reflected on the “grief and loss felt by so many” as she paid tribute to the service of health and care workers in a message to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where the Duke of Edinburgh had heart surgery.

The London Eye, Tate Britain, Blackpool Tower, the Scottish Parliament, Belfast City Hall and other buildings will be lit in yellow on Tuesday evening to mark the occasion.

The public is also being urged to stand on their doorsteps at 8pm with a candle or light.

The Prime Minister, who has offered his “sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones”, observed the minute’s silence privately.

It came on the day new figures from the Office for National Statistics showed a total of 149,117 people have had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate since the pandemic began.

Earlier, Downing Street said Mr Johnson had reflected with Cabinet ministers on Tuesday morning on what had been “a very dark and difficult year” for the nation.

A No 10 spokesman said: “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.

“The PM and Cabinet paid tribute to the extraordinary service of everyone in the NHS, social care and in the public sector over the past year, along with all those who had kept the country going – from bus drivers to shop workers.

“The PM said the ability of British scientists to respond to the pandemic had been incredible.

“He said that, if asked last March, he would not have believed it would have been possible to have developed a vaccine and delivered it to half of the UK adult population within 12 months.

“The PM said this was an absolutely astonishing achievement, which is a tribute to British science but also to British business.”

Earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there are currently no plans to put all of Europe on the travel “red list” after the prospect was raised on Monday by health minister Lord Bethell.

The red list currently forces British nationals and people who are normally resident in the UK to quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days.

Mr Hancock, who spoke to his Spanish counterpart on Monday about whether travel could resume safely, told LBC: “We don’t have any plans to do that.

“We do have this red list and the amber list, and at the moment that is working well, so we don’t have plans to do that.”

Mr Hancock said the ban on leaving the UK without a reasonable excuse, included in new coronavirus laws coming into force next week, had not changed the road map plans for international travel.

He told BBC Breakfast that current border measures were protecting the UK from new variants, some of which have been shown to evade a degree of immunity offered by vaccines.

He added: “The question is whether we’ll be able to release any of these measures over the summer.

“I entirely understand people’s yearning to get away and have a summer holiday, and we’re looking at that question right now as part of the global travel taskforce, which will report in the middle of next month.

“The earliest that will take any steps will be May 17 but, obviously, we’re taking a cautious approach because we want any openings that we make to be irreversible.”

Reflecting on the last year, Mr Hancock said: “I think the last year has been probably the hardest year in a generation.

“This crisis has touched everybody. My first thoughts go to those who’ve lost loved ones. The impact of that is permanent, I know that from my family.

“And, obviously, it’s vital that we are constantly learning and constantly looking at the evidence, listening to scientific advisers, listening to all of the advice and looking at what has happened and how we can improve the response throughout that.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was among those who joined the minute’s silence to remember those who have lost their lives.

Earlier, he tweeted: “As we mark one year since our country entered the first lockdown, my thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones since the pandemic began.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted on Tuesday morning: “One year on. Thinking today of all those who have lost a loved one to Covid, and to everyone who continues to make heartbreaking sacrifices as we continue to navigate our way through this terrible ordeal, together.

“Also, many people have lost loved ones to causes other than Covid over the past 12 months. The restrictions in place have made the grieving process even more difficult than it would have been – my thoughts are with you too.”

Elsewhere, Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he thought a third wave of coronavirus could potentially hit in the summer.

The UK is expecting another wave of infections at some point, mostly among the unvaccinated, but some scientists have suggested this will not be until the autumn or winter.

Prof Semple said: “The concern at present is that in countries where there’s less vaccination and a very strong third wave, that’s the perfect breeding ground for further variants of concern.

“So, at this point, Britain has got its act together, the concern is as this third wave is going on elsewhere, that will generate new variations.

“Even within Britain there is a likelihood of a third wave in potentially July and August time, when we do unlock society.”

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