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UK marks one year since virus lockdown

March 24, 2021

London: Britain on Tuesday marked the anniversary of its first coronavirus lockdown with a minute’s silence in tribute to the more than 126,000 people who have died — one of the world’s worst tolls.

The “National Day of Reflection” saw the silence observed in parliament and across the UK at noon (1200 GMT), followed by bells ringing to mourn the dead and honour frontline health workers.

Members of the public were encouraged to stand on their doorsteps at 8:00 pm (2000GMT) with lit phones, candles or torches to signify a “beacon of remembrance”.

Queen Elizabeth II, forced to spend much of the year out of the public eye, and her eldest son and heir Prince Charles led the tributes. The 94-year-old monarch called for reflection “on the grief and loss that continues to be felt by so many people and families,” and paid tribute to “the immeasurable service of those who have supported us all over the last year”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a lockdown on March 23 last year, shutting schools, 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 said a year ago, announcing the most stringent restrictions on public life since World War II.

He warned then that “many lives sadly will be lost” — though the death toll today stands far beyond any of the worst predictions of British scientists or politicians a year ago.

Alana Greig, senior charge nurse at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in Scotland, was one of the many medics forced to wage a desperate battle to save lives during the peaks of the pandemic, last spring and this winter. “It’s really been quite sad at times because young and old have passed away unfortunately,” she told AFP.

“And sometimes you felt, could you have done better? But you couldn’t, because you have done your best for them.” Throughout the crisis, the country has rallied round the state-run National Health Service (NHS). On Tuesday, a Banksy painting sold at auction for £16.75 million ($23.1 million, 19.4 million euros) — a record for the elusive street artist — with proceeds going to the NHS.

The Covid-19 death toll in March last year was 335. A year later it stands at 126,172, among the five worst rates in the world per million people. A YouGov survey conducted last week found that one in six people in Britain have lost a family member or close friend to Covid-19.

Initially, the lockdown was meant to last three weeks. A year on, Britain is in its third phase of restrictions, but is gradually loosening them thanks to a mass vaccination campaign.

Meanwhile, Russia and China on Tuesday rejected accusations they were seeking to use coronavirus vaccines to project their influence around the world.

Speaking to reporters after talks with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that both countries were guided by principles of “humanity” rather than geopolitical interests.

“Russia and China have been models of openness, cooperation, and mutual assistance,” Lavrov said in the southern Chinese city of Guilin in comments released by his ministry. Meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday received his first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said without specifying which jab was administered.

“Putin has been vaccinated against the coronavirus. He feels well. Tomorrow he has a full working day,” Peskov said, according to state-run RIA Novosti news agency.In a ralated development, the Netherlands is extending its coronavirus restrictions until April 20 as cases are rising, but will shorten its controversial nighttime curfew by one hour, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Tuesday.

“The number of infections has climbed again and more people are in hospital again. That is the worrying reality for today and therefore we cannot let go of the current measures,” Rutte told a press conference.