The event, held outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay on Tuesday evening, marks one year since the start of the first UK-wide lockdown.
The Wales National Coronavirus Commemorative Event, hosted by BBC news presenter Huw Edwards heard tributes from First Minister Mark Drakeford Welsh Conservative leader in the Senedd Andrew RT Davies and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price.
Mr Drakeford said the pandemic had “turned our lives upside down”, but said the public had united “in the darkest of times”.
“It’s been a year of many sad stories, but it’s also been a year of determination and bravery, from so many people all across Wales who have worked to support us and keep us safe,” he said.
“In the darkest of times, we have come together as a nation and as a people.
“That is why, as we mark this anniversary, we can do so with a sense of hope for the future. And for fairer and better times for us all.”
Mr Davies looked ahead to families being able to meet each other once again, but reflected on the more than 7,000 deaths in Wales which meant some members would be missing when restrictions are eventually eased.
He said: “We will not forget, but above all, we will not forget the acts of kindness from our public sector in the NHS, our carers, right across society the length and breadth of Wales.
“Some of the things that we’ve taken for granted like a smile, a hug, a kiss, sadly have been taken away from us over the last 12 months.
“But as we look out here in Cardiff Bay and see the beauty of the spring arriving, a new dawn will come, and we will embrace each other again, we will enjoy those kisses, but we will never ever forget those who’ve lost their lives to this virus.”
Mr Price described the last 12 months as “terribly emptying”, but that hope for the future had been born from those who have rallied to help others.
He said: “Today, we mark the scale of absence. The empty chair, the voice that used to give us comfort, another empty chair.
“This year has been a terrible emptying. One of lives, hollowed out by grief. But also extraordinary acts of care by nurses, ambulance crew, care workers, teachers. The list, as long as our debt to them is deep.
“A year on science, service and community have delivered us hope. As we step carefully into a new kind of a new day, to honour those we have lost.
“In the words of the poet, Ruth Bidgood, let us draw back the curtains. Let our houses sing with light, because hope is a candle that never gutters, never fails, even in the darkest of nights.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Drakeford observed a minute’s silence at midday with members of his cabinet including health minister Vaughan Gething as well as chief executive of NHS Wales Dr Andrew Goodall.
Speaking outside the Welsh Government’s Cathays Park building, Mr Drakeford spoke of the “inspiring tales of resilience, bravery and determination from every part of Wales”, and said the anniversary could be marked with “real hope” for the future.
Mr Drakeford said: “In the darkest of times, we have come together as a country.
“And because of that, today we mark this anniversary with a sense of hope.
“Our fantastic vaccine programme is protecting thousands of people every day and we’re relaxing the restrictions we have lived with for so long.
“As the first shoots of spring appear, we can all have real hope that this year can be so much better than the last.”