Boris Johnson has led the nation in a minute’s silence to pay tribute to the key workers who have died in the fight against the coronavirus.

The prime minister, who has returned to work after his own battle with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, paused at 11am to mark the moment in Downing Street.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock also observed the silence.

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Mr Johnson wrote on Twitter: “This morning I took part in a minute’s silence to remember those workers who have tragically died in the coronavirus pandemic. The nation will not forget you.”

There has been criticism of the government over the provision of personal protective equipment for frontline workers.

Martin Mayer, secretary of the Sheffield Trade Union Council, told those who gathered in the city to mark the event that many workers “didn’t get the protection they should have had”.

“We stand here sombrely and with great sadness, but with anger in our hearts too,” he said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described it as a “really emotional moment”.

“Coronavirus has shown us who our key workers really are,” he said.

“When this pandemic is over we can’t return to business as usual.

“They need proper pay, good working conditions, and a vision of a better society.”

The minute’s silence was held following a campaign from Unison, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Nursing to recognise the sacrifices of doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners, porters and bus drivers.

More than 100 NHS and social care workers have died with COVID-19, while workers in other key sectors such as transport are also among those who have died.

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Healthcare staff, some in tears, bowed their heads as they remembered their colleagues, followed in some instances by applause.

Elsewhere, traffic stopped as key workers were remembered.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “I am heartened to hear how many people took part in the minute’s silence to honour the memory of staff who have tragically died during the pandemic.

“We thought it was important to pay tribute publicly to those who have lost their lives to the virus, and I am proud that so many took the time to do so this morning.”

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She added: “An even greater task now remains – to stop more joining the tragic number of those who have died.

“All key workers, healthcare staff among them, must be afforded the greatest protection.”

The silence was marked across the UK in a number of ways:

  • Flags were flown at half-mast at several hospitals, including Chorley and Royal Preston Hospitals and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Trust’s hospitals
  • Westminster Abbey fell silent to “honour the sacrifice of health and care workers who have lost their lives in the service of others”
  • At Sheffield Town Hall, trade unionists and other supporters gathered outside carrying placards – some listing the names of those who have died
  • Three Unison representatives laid wreaths at Newcastle’s main War Memorial in Old Eldon Square
  • The London Underground and the city’s buses were brought to a halt as the workforce honoured colleagues, while elsewhere some traffic stopped for the silence
  • There were tears as NHS staff and Unison campaigners gathered outside Salford Royal Hospital in Greater Manchester for the minute’s silence, followed by applause.
  • Staff at Northern Ireland’s Ulster Hospital formed a guard of honour in the emergency department “to show solidarity with our colleagues”
  • Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon marked the moment outside St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh
  • In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford and Health Minister Vaughan Gething observed the silence with other ministers at the Welsh Government headquarters in Cardiff

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