BORIS Johnson tonight led tributes to the 126,000 Brits who have died from Covid and vowed better days are ahead as he prepares to ease lockdown next week.
The PM hailed our soaring vaccine rollout as a triumph of UK science and said it will lead the country towards a brighter future.
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He said: “For the entire British people it’s been an epic of endurance and of privation.
"Of children’s birthday parties cancelled, of weddings postponed, of families gatherings of all kinds simply deleted from the diary.
“Worst of all in that time we’ve suffered so many losses, and for so many people grief has been made more acute because we’ve not been able to see our loved ones in their final days, to hold their hands, and to mourn them together.
“At the right moment we’ll come together as a country to build a fitting and permanent memorial to the loved ones we’ve lost and to commemorate this whole period.
“For month after month our collective fight against Coronavirus was like fighting in the dark against a callous and invisible enemy, until science helped us to turn the lights on and gain the upper hand.
“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 that we can continue on our roadmap to freedom.
“Cautiously but irreversibly – step by step, jab by jab – this country is on the path to reclaiming our freedom.”
It came as…
- Prof Chris Whitty warned the UK will 'definitely' be hit with a third wave
- Angela Merkel told the EU to drop its vaccine export ban threat against Britain
- The latest figures revealed UK deaths have halved in a fortnight
- The Queen reflected on the 'grief and loss' caused by the pandemic
The PM said there were "many things we wished that we’d known and many things we wished that we’d done differently" at the start of the pandemic last year.
He added that "the single biggest false assumption that we made was about the potential for asymptomatic transmission".
And he added: "We’ve been learning the whole time and we’re continuing to learn."
When pushed on whether he should have locked down sooner, he said: "These are very very hard decisions and there are no good outcomes."
During a meeting of the Cabinet earlier the PM said the past 12 months have been "a very dark and difficult year for our country".
He told his top team: "We mourn all those we have lost and send our deepest sympathies to their families, friends and loved ones."
But he also said it had shown "the great strengths of the British public" and hailed the "absolutely astonishing achievement" of our scientists.
His remarks came amid increasing concern the third wave ravaging the continent could soon start to hit Britain.
Boris has warned the UK soon begin to "feel the effects" of the rise in infections across the Europe.
He said: "Previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, I’m afraid it washes up on our shores as well."
Countries across the EU are having to reimpose lockdowns amid soaring infections and the bloc's snail-paced jabs rollout.
British officials are particularly concerned about France, where the South African variant is now running rampant.
And today the Government's top scientific adviser warned the UK will "definitely" see another wave of Covid cases.
Professor Chris Whitty predicted the virus will case a "long rain shadow" despite our record-breaking vaccine blitz.
England's chief medical officer was speaking on the first anniversary of the lockdown that sparked the UK's pandemic fight.
He told the Public Health Conference 2021: "The path from here on in does look better than the last year.
"There are going to be lots of bumps and twists on the road from here on in.
"There will definitely be another surge at some point whether it's before winter or next winter, we don't know."
And he warned failure to get the virus under control could have "lifelong effects" on young people who miss out on vital education.
The PM has vowed to "bash on" with his roadmap out of lockdown despite the third wave gripping Europe.
And today Matt Hancock insisted Brits could still be allowed to go on foreign holidays from as early as May 17.
The health secretary said the PM's roadmap "has not changed" despite a new international travel ban coming in from Monday.
And he said ministers "understand" people's desire to get away for a break in the sun "after the last year we've all had".
Mr Hancock also dismissed suggestions from one of his own ministers that the whole of Europe could be put on the UK's travel red list.
His remarks come after the Government announced an official holiday ban in law from Monday, with the risk of a £5,000 fine for escaping.
Under new Covid laws people across the country will be officially banned from leaving the country without a reasonable excuse.
The powers are due to stay in place until the end of June, sparking fears foreign hols might be off the table until later in the summer.
But Mr Hancock today insisted the rules around foreign trips could be relaxed earlier than that if ministers deem it "safe" to do so.
Boris has set up a "Global Travel Taskforce" which will report back on April 12 with recommendations about how to restart international travel.
And in another boost to Brits the EU's threat of a full-blown vaccine war with the UK subsided today.
Angela Merkel ordered Brussels not to block deliveries of the Pfizer jab in a bid to avert a damaging conflict with No 10.
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