A horrific year of nearly 150,000 COVID-related deaths is being marked with sombre ceremonies across the UK on the anniversary of Boris Johnson’s first lockdown.
A year since his dramatic “stay at home” TV address to the nation, the prime minister claims the past year has been one of the most difficult in the country’s history.
And Prince Charles, patron of the charity organising the events, is calling on the country to work for a future inspired by the highest values displayed during the past year.
At noon, across the UK, a minute’s silence is being held in memory of those who have died and at 8pm people are being encouraged to stand on doorsteps with phones, candles and torches to signify a “beacon of remembrance”.
The anniversary coincides with Mr Johnson fighting a diplomatic offensive behind the scenes in a bid to prevent the European Union carrying out a threat to block exports of coronavirus vaccines to the UK.
The prime minister is also warning that a fresh surge in cases across Europe – a third wave of the pandemic which has forced France and Italy into new lockdown restrictions – is likely to find its way to the UK.
On what is being called a national day of reflection, organised by the end-of-life charity Marie Curie, Mr Johnson has said he will observe the minute’s silence privately. It will also be held in the Houses of Parliament.
Marking the anniversary, the prime minister 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.”
Reflecting on the past year, Prince Charles, who is patron of Marie Curie, said: “We have all been inspired by the resourcefulness we have witnessed, humbled by the dedication shown by so many, and moved, beyond words, by the sacrifices we have seen.
“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.”
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.”
During the day – on which the PM will also address Tory MPs ahead of a Commons vote on Thursday on further lockdown measures – churches and cathedrals will toll bells, light thousands of candles and offer prayers to mark the lockdown anniversary.
London’s skyline will turn yellow, with landmarks including the London Eye, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium lighting up at nightfall.
The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will turn yellow at 8pm and the club will also join in the midday silence.
Across the UK, public buildings that will be lit up include Cardiff Castle and Belfast City Hall.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford will take part in the National Coronavirus Commemorative Event at 5.15pm and take part in a minute’s silence at midday to remember those who have died over the last year.
The day of reflection is being supported by more than 250 organisations, including 82 leaders from religious groups and politicians, care organisations, charities, businesses, emergency services, public sector bodies and community groups.
Celebrities including acclaimed War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo and rock musicians Suzi Quatro and Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel are taking part in a series of online talks to help those feeling isolated and struggling with grief.
In Portsmouth, churches will deliver more than 50 boxes of chocolates and cards to GP surgeries, care homes and schools to thank key workers for their pandemic efforts.
According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, across the UK, 147,681 deaths have now occurred where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
The Health Foundation charity 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.
And James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, said: “Over the last year, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the lives of disabled people.
“Nearly two thirds of all those who died from coronavirus were disabled. A staggering and tragic statistic. We remember them and think of their families.
The chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said: “No one could ever have imagined the terrible toll COVID-19 would wreak on our lives when we went into our first national lockdown this time last year.
“Today is a day for reflection. A day when we reflect on the 146,000 people who have lost their lives to COVID-19 over the past year.
“This has been a national tragedy and behind each and every death will be a story of sorrow and grief.”
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.
Royal College of 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.”
For Labour, shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said: “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.”
Lockdown: One Year On is a special programme marking the anniversary of the first national lockdown on Sky News at 7pm tonight