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A public inquiry will be set up by next spring to “rigorously and candidly” investigate what mistakes the UK government made during the coronavirus pandemic, Boris Johnson has announced.
The prime minister said it was “absolutely vital” that “we should learn the lessons” of tackling Covid, promising a chair would be appointed and terms of reference confirmed after consultation with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
He admitted bereaved families may be “anxious” for the inquiry to start earlier than spring 2022, but said it would be “wrong” to “weigh down” scientific advisers and take up “huge amounts of officials’ time” when they may still be “in the middle of the pandemic” if cases rise again this winter.
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, suggested he wanted the inquiry to begin in less than 12 months, asking in parliament: “Why can it not be later this year? Why can it not start earlier?”
On Tuesday, for the first time, Johnson set a loose timeframe on the independent inquiry he has previously promised, saying it would commence by the end of the new parliamentary session, expected to last about a year.
Setting out further details on Wednesday, he said the inquiry would “be fully independent” and have “the ability to compel the production of all relevant materials and take oral evidence in public, under oath”.
Johnson signalled the inquiry probably would not start before next spring because there was a “high likelihood” that Covid cases would surge again in the winter. “We must not inadvertently divert or distract the people on whom we depend in the heat of our struggle against this disease,” the prime minister said.
He said: “I expect that the right moment for the inquiry to begin is at the end of this period, in the spring of next year, spring 2022.”
The inquiry would therefore be “able to look at the events of the last year in the cold light of day”, Johnson added, and would be free to “hear from all the key players” and “analyse and learn from the breadth of our response”.
The prime minister was urged to confirm that the inquiry would also investigate cases of long-Covid and the treatment available to patients who have it. Johnson said it would be a matter for the chair, but that he doubted they would “exclude” the matter.
Given it is being set up under the 2005 Inquiries Act, the government will be in charge of appointing a chair and panelists, and also a judge as well if it wishes.
Johnson’s announcement came after the Guardian in March highlighted calls for an inquiry from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, frontline health workers and the former head of the civil service Lord O’Donnell.
At the time, the government said an immediate inquiry would be wrong given the country was still in lockdown.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Boris Johnson: inquiry into handling of Covid crisis will start spring 2022 | Coronavirus