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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises to deliver a statement to honour victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, on March 11, 2021.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Flags across the country were flown at half-mast and tributes poured in to lost loved ones on Thursday as Canada marked the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a global pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in the House of Commons Thursday and said March 11, 2020, will always be marked by a before and an after.

Since the pandemic began, 2.5 million people around the world have died because of COVID-19, with more than 22,000 of them in Canada.

“For families and close ones, each death has a before and an after,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“Since the great wars of the 20th century, there is a sentence we often evoke, and it’s a sentence that we can bring back for those that we lost this year during the pandemic: We will remember them.”

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Ceremonies were held in different parts of the country including Quebec, which recorded nearly half the country’s death toll with more than 10,500 dead.

Premier François Legault and other elected members carried white roses that were laid at the foot of a wreath during a ceremony in front of the provincial legislature.

In a brief speech, the Premier pointed out that the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on the elderly.

“The virus hit very hard, and it above all hit our elders to whom we owe everything, our elders who built the Quebec of today,” Mr. Legault said to a small crowd that included cabinet members, opposition party leaders, health care workers and family members of those who died.

“We lost grandmothers, grandfathers, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, and today Quebec remembers these people that left us too soon.”

Edmonton’s mayor announced the city’s flags would fly at half-mast, while Ontario Premier Ford said he would seek unanimous consent from the legislature to observe a moment of silence recognizing all Ontarians who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Mr. Ford described the pandemic as “one of the grimmest chapters in modern health history,” but one that had also spawned “incredible acts of kindness, compassion and generosity.”

“Our front-line health care workers have stepped up in our hospitals, long-term care homes, and congregate settings to care for our sick and most vulnerable citizens, and our public health units have led local response efforts and worked to protect the health of our communities,” said Mr. Ford, who also highlighted the contributions of businesses, essential workers and volunteers.

Mr. Trudeau chose to make Thursday a national day of remembrance because it was the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic.

The Prime Minister evoked the memories of Canadians being asked to stay home and stay safe, of essential workers stocking grocery store shelves and of people cheering health care workers from their balconies.

“Businesses stepped up and produced [personal protective equipment],” Mr. Trudeau said. “Some went from making hockey masks to face shields: It doesn’t get any more Canadian than that.”

The Prime Minister briefly touched on the multiple tragedies in long-term care centres, where seniors across the country died in the thousands from the disease, often in circumstances of labour shortages and immense personal hardship.

“For every senior in Canada, we must do better, and I know that we will,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau ended his speech on a hopeful note, telling Canadian that millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine are on the way, allowing provinces to accelerate their vaccination campaigns. Health Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines so far, and 1.5 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole spoke after Mr. Trudeau, and while he gently criticized the government for its vaccine rollout, he also said the Conservative Party wants the vaccination program to do well.

“Like many Canadians we are frustrated by the slower pace of vaccines than elsewhere, but we want the government to succeed for the health and well-being of Canadians so that we can get our lives back to normal.”

Ontario reported 1,092 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as the province surpassed a million total vaccine doses administered. The province also announced it was placing Sudbury, Ont., into lockdown on Friday to curb the spread of more contagious COVID-19 variants and protect health system capacity after a spike in cases.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer said in a statement that daily COVID-19 case counts have levelled off after declining nationally from mid-January through mid-February.

Severe outcomes have continued to decline, Dr. Theresa Tam said, with an average of 2,064 people with COVID-19 treated in Canadian hospitals each day in the past week.

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