The Queen and Prime Minister have led tributes acknowledging the grief and loss of the last year as the nation fell silent on the anniversary of the first national lockdown.
The nation paused at midday in remembrance of those who have died during the crisis as part of a national day of reflection, organised by the end-of-life charity Marie Curie.
The minute’s silence was observed by members of the public, health and care staff and politicians across the UK, with cathedrals and both Houses of Parliament falling silent. It was followed by a bell toll.
This evening at 8pm people are being encouraged to stand on their doorsteps with phones, candles and torches to signify a “beacon of remembrance”.
More than 250 organisations are supporting the day of reflection, including 82 leaders from religious groups and cross-party politicians, care organisations, charities, businesses, emergency services, public sector bodies and community groups.
The Queen reflected on the “grief and loss felt by so many” in a message accompanying flowers sent to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London, where the Duke of Edinburgh had heart surgery.
The message read: “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.”
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took part in a private moment of reflection in Westminster Abbey, observing the minute’s silence in the abbey’s Shrine of St Edward the Confessor.
William then lit a candle in remembrance at the altar of the Shrine, and Kate placed fresh daffodils next to the candle.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who observed the minute’s silence privately, offered his “sincere condolences” to people bereaved during the pandemic.
He said: “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.”
According to the latest available data from the Office for National Statistics, there have been 629,623 deaths from all causes registered in England and Wales between March 21 2020 and the week ending March 12 2021.
The figures also show that, across the UK, 149,117 deaths have now occurred where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
The Health Foundation 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.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England strategic response director for Covid-19, said: “This virus has left no one untouched and it has been the most challenging time both personally and professionally that many of us have ever faced.
“I want to say thank you today to all the public health professionals and key workers who have worked long and difficult hours to help keep the country safe. The commitment you have shown is an inspiration to us all.”
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said the party’s thoughts are with grieving families, adding that a public inquiry will be key to learning lessons from the pandemic.
To mark the anniversary, London’s skyline will turn yellow with landmarks including the London Eye, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium lighting up at nightfall.
Other notable buildings that will be illuminated include Cardiff Castle and Belfast City Hall, while churches and cathedrals will toll bells, light thousands of candles and offer prayers.
In Portsmouth, churches are delivering more than 50 boxes of chocolates and cards to local GP surgeries, care homes and schools to thank key workers for their pandemic efforts.
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.”
Lending his support to the national day of reflection, the Prince of Wales, who is a patron of Marie Curie, said: “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.”