Britain marks 2 years since first COVID lockdown

Britain paused on Wednesday to remember the thousands of lives lost to the coronavirus in the two years since Prime Minister Boris Johnson began the first lockdown with the order: “You must stay home.”

The quarantine imposed on March 23, 2020 meant the closure of offices, schools, restaurants, shops and parks. People not performing essential tasks could only go out briefly for exercise and shopping. The strict measures lasted for three months, and the restrictions continued at intervals until the beginning of this year.

With civic liberties restored as confirmed cases rise again, Wednesday was declared a day of reflection on a pandemic that has claimed nearly 164,000 lives in the UK, the highest toll in Europe after Russia.

Britain was also the developed country to suffer one of the deepest downturns in its economy with the closure of large sectors of the economy.

Families grieving the loss of loved ones tied yellow ribbons on Westminster Bridge near a wall commemorating the victims of the pandemic with thousands of painted hearts. A minute’s silence was observed at noon and people were encouraged to display flowers or shine a light in their window at 8 p.m.

“The dead of COVID will never leave our hearts and minds and today we reflect as a nation,” Johnson said in a message on the anniversary.

Johnson, who was hospitalized in intensive care in April 2020, said he was able to see “firsthand the heroic efforts” of medical staff. He paid tribute to all of them “by pausing to remember those we have lost.”

Political opposition and public health experts have harshly criticized the government for its response to the pandemic. They say that a prime minister reluctant to shut down the economy and everyday life did not always heed the advice of scientists.

Under pressure from families who have lost loved ones, Johnson agreed to launch a public inquiry into his administration’s handling of the pandemic, led by a retired judge. Hearings are due to begin in the coming weeks.

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