Boris Johnson looks back on 'huge toll' of coronavirus one year after first lockdown was announced

Yorkshire has marked a full day without any coronavirus deaths for the first time since September ahead of the first anniversary today of the start of a series of lockdowns across the country.

On March 23, 2020, Boris Johnson addressed the nation to order people to stay at home amid the mounting emergency, at the time he said: “The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost.”

And one year on the Prime Minister said a “huge toll” had been taken on the nation in a year he described as “one of the most difficult in our country’s history”.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday insisted the UK’s roadmap out of restrictions must be irreversible, as new coronavirus laws coming into force next week were published.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to BAE Systems at Warton Aerodrome in Lancashire. Photo: PA

But Mr Johnson said that the third wave of Covid-19 infections, seen in countries such as France and Italy, is likely to “wash up on our shores as well”.

There were a further 17 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test across the UK yesterday, bringing the nation’s total to 126,172.

In Yorkshire no deaths were recorded for the first time since September 8, but overall the region has endured 10,744 fatalities.

The latest data also showed that Barnsley has the highest rate of new coronavirus cases in the country, with 483 new cases recorded in the seven days to March 18.

Its rate of 195.7 cases per 100,000 people is a rise of nearly 50 in a week. Elsewhere Hull has the fifth-highest rate, Rotherham sixth, Bradford eighth and Wakefield tenth at 124.6.

Hambleton in North Yorkshire had the lowest rate in the region at 29.5 new cases per 100,000 people.

Mr Johnson said: “I’ve talked to our (European) friends repeatedly over the period – we’re all facing the same pandemic, we all have the same problems.

“If there is one thing that is worth stressing is that on the continent right now you can see sadly there is a third wave under way.

“People in this country should be under no illusions that previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, it washes up on our shores as well.

“I expect that we will feel those effects in due course.”

And it came amid concern the European Union could move to block exports of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in a tense standoff between the UK Government and the bloc.

Mr Johnson said he did not think his counterparts in Europe wanted a ban to go ahead.

But European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who has come under pressure over the EU’s relatively poor vaccine rollout, had ramped up the rhetoric at the weekend, saying the EU had the power to “forbid” doses from leaving the bloc.

Mr Johnson spoke to French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday, following talks earlier in the week with Ms von der Leyen and the Dutch and Belgian prime ministers Mark Rutte and Alexander De Croo.

“I’m reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they don’t want to see blockades, I think that’s very important,” Mr Johnson told broadcasters yesterday.

And it has been reported that key raw materials used to produce vaccines, and sent to EU processing plants from Yorkshire, could be used as leverage in the row.

Chemical firm Croda International, based in Snaith, North Yorkshire, is supplying lipid nanoparticles, or fatty molecules, used to contain the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and safely deliver it to human cells to plants in the EU, including in Belgium.

The Prime Minister is expected to hold further conversations with his EU counterparts ahead of a virtual summit on Thursday where European leaders are due to consider a possible export ban.