A public inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis started on Tuesday, with a projected duration of three years. The investigation will explore whether better preparation could have prevented some of the suffering and casualties of the pandemic. The inquiry will also examine the extent to which the UK’s departure from the European Union may have detracted from preparations for potential threats.
The inquiry will investigate a range of topics, including the provision of medical equipment, the management of patients and social care, the measures taken to contain the virus, and the effectiveness of the government’s communication with the public. Witnesses are expected to include current and former government officials, as well as representatives of healthcare providers and frontline workers.
The inquiry has been criticised for its length and the potential cost, but proponents argue that it is necessary to ensure that lessons are learned from the pandemic’s handling. The inquiry will aim to provide recommendations for future preparedness for public health crises and to hold those responsible accountable for failings that may have worsened the impact of the pandemic.
At the opening of the inquiry, lawyer Hugo Keith, who is serving as counsel, recognised that the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in widespread suffering and mortality in modern-day Britain, on an unprecedented scale. COVID-19 has been cited as the primary factor in the reported passing of 226,977 individuals in the UK, according to Keith.
He stated that the inquiry’s primary aim is to identify what occurred and why it happened, with the goal of determining if the higher rates of infection and death were avoidable. Furthermore, Keith emphasised that an essential goal of the inquiry is to discover what lessons may be learned from the pandemic’s fallout to ensure that such an event does not happen again in the future.
Ultimately, the investigation will investigate how the UK has reacted to a pandemic of this magnitude, with a particular focus on the decisions made by authorities and their potential impact on the public. The inquiry will seek to establish why certain measures were or were not implemented and how effective they were in stemming the spread of the virus.
According to Hugo Keith, the primary concern that the inquiry seeks to address is whether the severe consequences of the pandemic were inevitable and unavoidable, or whether they could have been prevented with appropriate measures. Keith emphasised that one of the primary objectives of the inquiry is to determine if any actions could have been taken to mitigate the damage caused by the pandemic.
The inquiry will investigate the government’s actions throughout the pandemic, including the decision-making processes that influenced the handling of the pandemic response. Specifically, the inquiry will examine whether or not the government implemented adequate measures to prevent the spread of the virus and mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic.
Ultimately, the inquiry will aim to establish whether the suffering and loss of life that occurred as a result of COVID-19 in the UK could have been minimised or averted with better planning, preparation, and response. The inquiry will consider if any aspects of the UK’s pandemic response could have been improved to reduce the negative effects of the virus.
During the opening day of the public hearings, a group of individuals who lost their family members to COVID-19 held pictures of their loved ones outside the anonymous London office building where the inquiry is being held. The individuals gathered to draw attention to the significant impact of the pandemic on their lives and the lives of those around them.
The first day of hearings began with a 17-minute video that showcased the devastating effects of the pandemic on individuals and communities across the UK. The video contained accounts from people who contracted the virus themselves, as well as those who lost loved ones to the disease. The footage aimed to highlight the human cost of the pandemic and put a spotlight on the significant impact of the virus on those affected by it.
Overall, the public hearings seek to provide a venue for individuals and communities to share their experiences of the COVID-19 crisis, including those who have lost family members and healthcare workers who were involved on the frontline of the pandemic response. The inquiry will strive to learn from these testimonies and establish recommendations for future crisis response to address the negative effects of the pandemic moving forward.
Following the gathering of individuals who lost family members to COVID-19, retired judge Heather Hallett, who is heading the inquiry, praised the group’s “dignified vigil.” Hallett acknowledged the toll that the pandemic has taken on millions of people and recognised that the inquiry is taking place on their behalf.
The inquiry looks to conduct a thorough investigation into the UK government’s handling of the pandemic response. It intends to recognise and document the impact of the virus on the public and the complexities involved in controlling a pandemic of this scale. The inquiry will seek to establish a clear understanding of how the pandemic occurred, the government’s decisions, and the circumstances that led to the significant effects of the pandemic in the UK.
Ultimately, the inquiry aims to contribute to the global effort to control and eliminate COVID-19 by providing valuable insights into how the response in the UK could have been improved. It remains to be seen what lessons will be learned from the inquiry, but it is hoped that they will help in preventing future pandemics and ensuring that appropriate measures are put in place to mitigate their impact.
The UK has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in Europe, and the actions taken by the government led by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been the subject of ongoing debate. Following pressure from bereaved families, Johnson committed in late 2021 to holding an inquiry.
The inquiry is expected to continue hearings until 2026 and will explore a range of topics related to the UK’s pandemic response. This includes the country’s level of preparedness for such an event, the government’s response during the pandemic, and the lessons that can be learned from this experience for future crises.
Overall, the inquiry will aim to provide insight into how the pandemic was handled in the UK and the impact of the government’s decisions on public health and safety. The hope is that the findings will help inform future planning and responses for other similar crises, both in the UK and globally.
The inquiry is expected to call senior scientists and officials, including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to give evidence. The inquiry will be led by retired judge Heather Hallett, who has the power to summon evidence and question witnesses under oath.
Hallett is currently engaged in a legal battle with the government over her request to have access to an unedited collection of notebooks, diaries, and WhatsApp messages exchanged between Johnson and other officials.
The process of conducting UK public inquiries is known for being thorough but slow, with the Iraq War inquiry starting in 2009 and not releasing its 2.6 million-word report until 2016.
However, in a departure from usual practice, Hallett has indicated that she will release findings on a rolling basis after each section of the inquiry, rather than waiting until the hearings are concluded. This will provide some insight into the inquiry’s progress and findings as they emerge.
According to Hugo Keith, the first section of the inquiry will focus on whether the UK’s pandemic preparation relied too heavily on the assumption that future pandemics would resemble influenza. This approach will examine the adequacy of the planning and readiness for such an unforeseeable global crisis.
Keith stated that during the early stages of the pandemic in March 2020, the UK government had insisted that the country was well-prepared to respond to the outbreak. Therefore, the inquiry will investigate whether the government lived up to those claims and if the measures taken during the early stages of the pandemic were adequate to stem the spread of the virus.
Overall, this first section of the inquiry will scrutinise the UK government’s approach to the pandemic and assess whether its response was equal to the needs of the crisis. The hope is that the findings will identify areas in which the government can improve its preparedness and response to similar crises in the future, including the possibility of pandemics.
Hugo Keith expressed that even before hearing the evidence, it is clear that the UK may not have been adequately prepared for a pandemic. Therefore, Keith considers it crucial to examine how the UK government utilised informed science and past learnings to prepare for the unforeseeable public health crisis.
Furthermore, he pointed out that the exit of the UK from the European Union may have distracted the government’s resources and planning for pandemics. Keith said that the planning effort to get Britain out of the EU absorbed much of the country’s energy involving significant resources that could have been devoted to pandemic preparedness.
Overall, this highlights that the inquiry will investigate the potential impact of these decisions on the UK’s approach to the pandemic. The inquiry aims to identify and learn from the past mistakes to build stronger foundations for future planning and preparedness to overcome such a crisis.
Hugo Keith emphasised that the UK’s planning and preparation for leaving the European Union required an immense amount of resources, including extensive planning efforts to address significant consequences, such as food and medicine supplies, travel and transport, and business borders, most notably in the event of a no-deal exit.
Moreover, Keith acknowledged that the extensive planning efforts for the exit from the EU, from 2018 onwards, clearly prohibited or crowded out significant improvements needed in terms of resilience planning and preparedness for potential pandemics within the UK.
Overall, the inquiry aims to explore how the UK government’s focus on Brexit may have affected its capacity to plan effectively and its response during a pandemic. The hope is that the findings will provide valuable insights into areas for improvement and increase preparedness for future crises.