Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a press conference from Downing Street this evening, one year on since he announced the first UK lockdown to tackle COVID-19.
Since that announcement on 23 March 2020, over 149,000 people in the UK have died and have had coronavirus recorded on their death certificate (according to data from the Office for National Statistics). As well as human loss, the pandemic and its lockdowns have also caused significant changes to the ways we all live and work and most of the public have been distanced from loved ones for many months over the last year.
Speaking from Downing Street on Tuesday evening, Mr Johnson thanked everyone for their “courage, discipline and patience.” The Prime Minister added;
“When people come to describe this epidemic to future generations, we’ll tell the story of the heroes of the NHS and social care of pharmacists, teachers, armed service personnel, shop workers, transport workers, the police and so many others.
“But in the end this was unlike any other struggle in my lifetime, in that our entire population has been engaged, and it’s thanks to all of you therefore that we can continue on our roadmap to freedom.”
Mr Johnson said that the UK remains on target to offer a first COVID vaccine dose to everyone over 50 by the middle of April, and every UK adult by the end of July. He said, “cautiously but irreversibly, step by step, jab by jab, this country is on the path to reclaiming our freedoms.”
Given the anniversary of lockdown beginning and the sheer loss experienced, questions were asked at the press conference about whether the Government could and should have acted differently. Over the last year, many have argued that the Government was too slow in implementing lockdown measures, though the Prime Minister defended the Government’s actions as in “the interest of the British people”.
The Prime Minister did acknowledge that “in retrospect, there are probably many things that we wish that we’d known and many things we wish we’d done differently at the time”. The Government’s chief medical adviser pointed out during the press conference that many things about the virus were unknown until people started getting hospitalised and dying.
Labour has called for a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic and has said it is ‘vital’ to ensure lessons can be learnt ready for future pandemics.
Earlier on Tuesday, a minute’s silence was observed across the country as part of a National Day of Reflection.
While the situation in the UK regarding the pandemic is much improved compared to last year, there is still some way to go before life can return closer to normal. Thousands of people are continuing to test positive for the virus each day – though these numbers are now much lower than at the start of the 2021 lockdown and have been falling.
Questions over international travel and the easing of restrictions in time for summer holidays have been raised in recent days, given new surges in cases of the virus in Europe. On Monday, Mr Johnson said that a third wave of the virus from Europe would reach the UK, though he indicated that lockdown measures would continue to ease. On Tuesday, the PM revealed hopes to set out more details about the potential for international travel from the UK by 5 April – in less than two weeks time.