POLITICAL leaders in Wales have marked the anniversary of the first lockdown with messages of condolence for the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This evening a National Coronavirus Commemoration Event was held outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

Speeches of reflection were accompanied by poetry and a stirring rendition of Ar Hyd y Nos, performed by members of Morriston Hospital's emergency department staff outside their workplace.

Earlier today, first minister Mark Drakeford led a remembrance service and minute’s silence on the steps of the Welsh Government’s offices.

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And in the Senedd this afternoon, Mr Drakeford said the pandemic had brought a "huge loss of life" and had “such an impact on us all".

At least 5,488 people have died in Wales since testing positive for Covid-19, according to Public Health Wales. The Office for National Statistics’ death toll, which includes all mentions of the virus on death certificates, is much higher and currently stands at 7,632 people.

The National Wales: First minister Mark Drakeford (at lectern) with ministers and members of the Welsh Government at a coronavirus remembrance event, March 23, 2021. Picture: Welsh GovernmentFirst minister Mark Drakeford (at lectern) with ministers and members of the Welsh Government at a coronavirus remembrance event, March 23, 2021. Picture: Welsh Government

The first minister told the Senedd his thoughts were with “all the families mourning the loss of a loved one”.

He said the “terrible and cruel” virus had “struck indiscriminately” but had also “laid bare stubborn inequalities in our society” – disproportionately affecting people from ethnic-minority groups, as well as vulnerable and disabled people.

The pandemic had, too, taken its toll on society and “the way in which we live our daily lives,” Mr Drakeford added. Coronavirus had “taken human touch and contact away from us,” as well as having a “huge” financial cost.

He said the impact on mental health – feelings of loneliness, anxiety, frustration – had already been felt but “the full force of that may yet be to come”.

The National Wales: A year of coronavirus: Mask-wearing became the norm as public health rules were brought in to stem the tide of infections. Picture: Peter Rhys WilliamsA year of coronavirus: Mask-wearing became the norm as public health rules were brought in to stem the tide of infections. Picture: Peter Rhys Williams

But a year of coronavirus had also shown the “huge resilience of the human spirit and the phenomenal willingness of people in communities to help one another,” Mr Drakeford told Senedd colleagues.

He thanked key workers, from health staff to taxi drivers, for their “tireless work that has kept us all safe”.

And an “enormous spirit of social solidarity” had blossomed, Mr Drakeford added.

The National Wales: A year of coronavirus: The pandemic played havoc with young people's lives and education. Picture: Peter Rhys WilliamsA year of coronavirus: The pandemic played havoc with young people's lives and education. Picture: Peter Rhys Williams

That spirit, and the “incredible speed” of the vaccination programme, meant that today’s anniversary could be marked with “a sense of hope” for the future.

Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, praised the love, compassion and community spirit shown across the nation over the past year.

He said everyone in Wales had “played their part in facing down the virus” and people could reflect on that “with great pride”.

The National Wales: A year of coronavirus: Daily exercise was one of the few freedoms during periods of 'stay-at-home' rules. Picture: Peter Rhys WilliamsA year of coronavirus: Daily exercise was one of the few freedoms during periods of 'stay-at-home' rules. Picture: Peter Rhys Williams

Mr Davies said the vaccine programme had been successful across the UK, but the current disagreement with the European Union over supplies was “a topic of great concern”.

The first minister should tell the EU president “not to go down this route of sanction and reneging on contracts,” Mr Davies said.

Mr Drakeford said he agreed with Boris Johnson’s comments that an agreement with the EU was necessary.

“We all face the challenge of coronavirus – it has no respect of any national boundaries,” the first minister said, adding: “We resolve this matter by discussion and agreement.”

The National Wales: A year of coronavirus. People turned to colourful window displays as a safe way of marking important days in the calendar. Picture: Peter Rhys WilliamsA year of coronavirus. People turned to colourful window displays as a safe way of marking important days in the calendar. Picture: Peter Rhys Williams

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price paid sympathies to those who had lost loved ones, and thanked the key workers who had been “a source of light…through these dark days”.

He called for an independent, Wales-specific inquiry into the pandemic, saying lessons unique to Wales “perhaps wouldn’t be given due focus in a UK-wide umbrella inquiry”.

The National Wales: A year of coronavirus: When travel was strongly discouraged, people turned to beauty spots on their own doorsteps. Picture: Peter Rhys WilliamsA year of coronavirus: When travel was strongly discouraged, people turned to beauty spots on their own doorsteps. Picture: Peter Rhys Williams

Mr Price also asked how Wales could “harness” the experience of coronavirus to tackle “ongoing challenges”.

The first minister said he agreed “learning lessons is important” and said government should not wait for an inquiry before doing so.

Mark Reckless, of the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, said thoughts today should be with the families of people who died of coronavirus, and also with people suffering with ‘long Covid’ and mental health problems.

He asked Mr Drakeford if Wales would welcome tourists from elsewhere in the UK “in a sensible way”.

The National Wales: A year of coronavirus. Many people found solace in their gardens during the periods of tightest restrictions. Picture: Peter Rhys Williams A year of coronavirus. Many people found solace in their gardens during the periods of tightest restrictions. Picture: Peter Rhys Williams

The first minister said he “very much” looked forward to welcoming people to Wales when it is safe, but government would also have to consider the safety of local people in areas of Wales where the population “swells greatly in the tourist season”.

At the commemorations this evening, Mr Drakeford said the country had "come together like never before".

He reflected on 12 months of "determination and bravery," as well as tragedy, and said Wales could be "hopeful" the coming year would have "brighter times".

The National Wales: The Welsh flag flies at half mast over the Welsh Government's offices in Cardiff. Picture: Welsh GovernmentThe Welsh flag flies at half mast over the Welsh Government's offices in Cardiff. Picture: Welsh Government