Eastlondonlines boroughs join nation in silence to remember pandemic victims

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves join paramedics at Deptford Ambulance station today. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The anniversary of the first national lockdown was commemorated by a minute’s silence at 12 noon today throughout the UK as the nation reflected on the 146,487 deaths since the start of the pandemic.  

The moment was marked across all the Eastlondonlines boroughs, which have suffered some of the highest death tolls per population in the country.  In railway stations and public places, people stood in silence to remember the victims.

In Deptford, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves, joined paramedics at the local ambulance station. Although a Leeds MP, Reeves was born and educated in Lewisham and is the sister of one of Lewisham’s MP’s Ellie Reeves.

Starmer tweeted: “As we mark one year since our country entered the first lockdown, my thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones since the pandemic began.”

MPs and peers in both Houses of Parliament and ministers in the devolved nations marked the anniversary at midday, while NHS and social care workers across the capital and the ELL boroughs also joined the pause for reflection.

According to new data published weekly from Gov.uk, in total, there have been 18,541 deaths in London with COVID-19 on the death certificate.  

Croydon has had the highest number, with 978 losses, but the figure is only a 27 per cent rise above its five-year average. The borough has had an exceptionally challenging time battling COVID-19, with ELL reporting that the unknown person infected with the dangerous Brazilian variant had been traced to the area.  

Hackney, however, with its 496 deaths has experienced a 40 p.c rise in excess deaths compared to its own average, which is the fourth highest of all the London boroughs. The winter was particularly difficult for Hackney after half of its children were revealed to be living in poverty, with families struggling to make ends meet without the aid of free school meals. The community came out in full force, however, with volunteers from Made in Hackney and other volunteer groups delivering free meals. 

Richmond, however, is the area of London which ranks the lowest, with 144 deaths accounting for a 14p.c above its own five-year average. Tower Hamlets, compared to the other three boroughs, has kept the death toll relatively low at 313. But this, when compared to West Devon, the nation’s lowest, at 37, Tower Hamlets has exceeded it more than eight times. The borough has seen vaccine hesitancy, particularly among the BAME community, inspiring London’s largest mosque to act as a pop-up vaccination centre after the spread of misinformation. 

On the opposite end of the scale, Croydon ranks as having the 11th highest number of deaths in the UK. Birmingham, having sustained 2,873 losses, almost triples the Croydon death toll. Regionally, however, the South East (20,031) and North West of England (19,525) still exceed London (18,541) despite the capital’s population density. 

However, with a vaccine roll-out that is working beyond the government’s expectations, with only 17 deaths yesterday marking a continuation of the downward trend, there is cause for optimism.

ELL reported last month that cases in the four East London boroughs are plummeting in step with the rest of the nation. While nationally 5,342 cases had been reported, last week, Lewisham and Croydon recorded only 27 cases per 100,000 people, with 84 and 104 cases respectively; Hackney has fared even better with only 15 per 100,000; and Tower Hamlets, though reporting 35 cases per 100,000, is still nationally very low in comparison to the likes of North Lincolnshire who have reported 160 cases. The national average of cases in England is 42 cases per 100,000. 

But despite case numbers dwindling in the East London boroughs, today still signifies the anniversary of a year of devastating loss, regardless of borough or region.  

Later on Tuesday the London Eye, Tate Britain, Blackpool Tower, the Scottish Parliament, Belfast City Hall and other buildings will be lit in yellow to mark the day.

The public are also being urged to stand on their doorsteps at 8pm with a candle or light.

In Hackney, local people can fill in the Council’s book of Condolences here to commemorate their loved ones. 

The Speaker of Hackney, Councillor Kam Adams said: “The coronavirus pandemic has been a tragic and unprecedented time of loss for families and communities in Hackney. The Book of Condolences is a chance for members of the community to remind us that behind every fatality Hackney has suffered, there is a person with a story.” 

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