A “national day of reflection” will be held to mark the first anniversary of Britain going into lockdown and in remembrance of the 125,000 people who have died during the coronavirus pandemic.
Charities and politicians are urging members of the public to hold a minute’s silence at noon on 23 March, and to contact someone they know who is grieving.
Organisers of the remembrance event, which include the British Red Cross, Marie Curie, the Jo Cox Foundation and Royal Voluntary Service, said the silence at noon would be followed by bells tolling at 12.01pm and prominent landmarks will be lit up across the country at 8pm.
They hope the day will be commemorated annually, with other community-led acts such as virtual reflective assemblies, candle lighting on doorsteps and yellow ribbons wrapped around trees – with social distancing followed.
Boris Johnson is among those who are backing the initiative. He conceded that “this has been an incredibly difficult year for our country” and said his thoughts were with “all those who have lost loved ones, and who have not been able to pay tribute to them in the way they would have wanted”.
He added: “As we continue to make progress against the virus, I want to thank people for the sacrifices they continue to make, and hope they can look forward to being reunited with loved ones as restrictions are cautiously eased.”
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has also lent his support and said each of the 125,343 people who died within 28 days of a positive Covid is someone’s relative or partner. “Behind every death are bereaved families and friends, many of whom have been unable to grieve normally,” he said.
“Despite the terrible impact of this pandemic, the past year has also brought communities closer together. Moments like this can send a powerful message that, as a society, we are there for each other. We must ensure this spirit of national solidarity lives on, as a tribute to those we have lost.”
Other politicians to endorse the event include the first ministers of Scotland and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford.
Many coronavirus anniversaries have been passed since the start of 2021 – including of the first cases of Covid-19 being identified in the UK, the first death from the virus, and some sectors of the economy being wound down and businesses told to close.
But the country is approaching one of the biggest milestones, when the “stay at home” message was an unfamiliar one and the idea of a national lockdown seemed, to some, almost unfeasible.
In the aftermath, the Queen issued a rare national address in an effort to keep the nation’s spirits up, the furlough scheme was announced, and Johnson voiced hopes of “turning the tide of this disease” in 12 weeks.
Despite government officials briefing that the crisis would be over by summer, and then by Christmas, the first wave of infections and deaths turned out to be smaller than the second.
One of the toughest ordeals for people has been the inability to be with family member or friend when they died, given restrictions on hospital visits, or to attend funerals, at which attendance numbers have been strictly capped.
The event on 23 March is designed to give people a chance to mourn. Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “We need to reflect on the pandemic’s deep toll, mourn those we’ve lost, and mark the service and sacrifice of staff throughout the NHS.
“It’s also a moment to acknowledge how in adversity we saw strength, as friends, neighbours and communities have come together to help each other through the nation’s worst ordeal since the second world war. While we need continuing vigilance against this virus, the remarkable NHS vaccination programme now brings hope of better times to come.”
This content first appear on the guardian