London, Mar 23 (PTI) Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the UK's stay-at-home lockdown, which he had declared in a televised address on March 23 last year as the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic swept the country.
The National Day of Reflection was marked with a minute's silence at 1200 GMT (0530 IST) and people are also being encouraged to join in doorstep “beacon of remembrance” vigils using candles, torches and phones later in the day.
The UK PM hailed the “great spirit” shown by the nation through the “most difficult year” in the country’s history and struck a cautious note of optimism about the lifting of restrictions.
“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,” said Johnson, in reference to the year that also saw him test positive for coronavirus and hospitalised for treatment.
“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,” he said.
“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,” the UK PM added.
Queen Elizabeth II paid tribute to frontline staff with a bouquet of flowers sent to St Bartholomew's Hospital in London.
'As we look forward to a brighter future together, today we pause to reflect on the grief and loss that continues to be felt by so many people and families, and pay tribute to the immeasurable service of those who have supported us all over the last year,' read her note.
The National Day of Reflection is being organised by end-of-life charity Marie Curie as a commemoration of a difficult year through the pandemic, which has taken 126,172 lives. Proceedings in the House of Commons were paused to observe the minute's silence, with Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle telling Parliament: 'Every single one of us has been affected.” Downing Street said Boris Johnson had reflected with Cabinet ministers on Tuesday morning on what had been 'a very dark and difficult year' for the nation.
'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,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
It comes as the government set out its so-called “Roadmap Regulations” as the legal framework for lifting the coronavirus lockdown in phases, with June 21 expected as the date for a complete easing of restrictions on gatherings and household mixing – imposed as a measure to control the spread of the virus.
The latest measures mean from March 29 outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed. A full review will then be conducted in advance of moving to Step 2 of the Roadmap, which will be April 12.
“These measures have been vital to reducing infections, hospital admissions and deaths across the country, and thanks to peoples’ commitment and support, we have made strong progress,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“We are rightly ending as many national measures as safely as possible, while maintaining those which remain necessary and proportionate to help reduce and control infections further as we cautiously but irreversibly ease restrictions and our historic vaccination programme continues apace,” he said.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the roadmap out of lockdown is “cautious, but irreversible”.
The government has also published a review of the Coronavirus Act ahead of a vote in Parliament, which sets out 15 measures which will be expired or suspended after Easter recess in early April as they are no longer essential to the national response to COVID-19.
It explains which measures of the Act will be retained and how they will help to support businesses and individuals, shore up capacity in the health and care service and ensure delivery of essential public services.
The DHSC highlighted that the emergency Act ensured the National Health Service had the capacity to deal with the peak of the virus by allowing the temporary registration of nurses and other healthcare professionals.
It provided courts with the ability to use video technology and it allowed the government to put in place support packages such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, which have provided a source of income for families and a lifeline for many businesses.
It has also enabled businesses to access loan schemes, which have provided over GPB 72 billion of support to businesses with over GPB 1.5 million loans approved.
The regulations laid out this week will be voted on by Parliament on Thursday. If approved, it will replace the “All Tiers” regulations, made to enact the tiered system of lockdown at the end of last year.
The temporary measures within the Coronavirus Act require a renewal vote every six months as part of the government’s legal requirement to properly scrutinise coronavirus legislation. PTI AK SCY SCY