Michael Rosen backs calls for Covid UK public inquiry | UK news

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Michael Rosen, the poet and children’s writer who survived Covid after six weeks on a ventilator, has backed calls for a public inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic amid rising pressure on Boris Johnson to announce a timetable.

The author spoke out as several other prominent figures urged the government to launch a statutory investigation into the UK’s Covid-19 experience, including the broadcaster Joan Bakewell, the film director Stephen Frears and the music producer and composer Talvin Singh.

Sophie Morgan, a TV presenter with a spinal cord injury, said a public inquiry was needed “urgently” as figures show almost two-thirds of Covid-related deaths in the UK have been disabled people.

The calls came at the end of a week in which a group representing more than 2,800 bereaved issued an ultimatum to Boris Johnson that they would start legal action within weeks unless he triggered a statutory public inquiry. They want it to have the power to subpoena witnesses and evidence and to examine the reasons the UK has the worst per capita death toll of any of the world’s largest economies.

Pressure increased on Friday when the NHS Race and Health Observatory, set up by NHS England and the NHS Confederation to reduce ethnic and racial inequalities in healthcare, said it also wanted a “robust and comprehensive public inquiry”.

“The inquiry should consider immediate actions to tackle specific ethnic health inequalities exposed by the pandemic, and the responses that are potentially leading to their increase,” said its director, Dr Habib Naqvi.

Further support came on Friday from hundreds of families of care home residents, about 40,000 of whom died with Covid in the UK. The Care Campaign for the Vulnerable wrote to the prime minister demanding an inquiry saying “the emotional, physical and mental distress … demands recognition”.

Government scientific advisers Prof John Edmunds and Prof Andrew Hayward told the Guardian this week they support the idea, as did the former head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Muslim Council of Britain. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have also called for a public inquiry.

The Labour leader, Kier Starmer, told Sky News bereaved families “want closure, they want justice and they want their questions answered. We can’t keep saying now is not the time …. It has got to start as soon as restrictions are lifted. I don’t think we can park it off for years to come.”

Joan Bakewell
TV presenter and Labour party peer Joan Bakewell said she was concerned about money being given to private companies. Photograph: Matt Crossick/PA

The prime minister promised last July there would be an “independent inquiry” but Downing Street’s current position is that “now is not the right time to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry”. Both the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, and the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, have suggested an inquiry may distract from the vaccination programme.

Rosen said he wanted an inquiry to focus in part on why the virus was allowed to take hold in the UK in February and March last year, saying that he suspected “the government were experimenting with herd immunity without vaccination”. He said he believed he was a victim of that experiment “as are thousands of people who died or are also suffering from long Covid”.

He said: “We desperately need an inquiry into how and why this lethal idea was taken seriously. We owe it to the dead and injured and we must learn from such a terrible mistake.”

TV presenter and Labour party peer Joan Bakewell said everything the NHS had controlled had done well but she was concerned about the money given to private companies. “[The government] handing out contracts to people who they know, that needs to be investigated,” she said.

Frears, whose films include My Beautiful Laundrette and The Queen, said the NHS should have been in charge of test and trace and an inquiry is needed because of the death toll. “There is nothing to argue about it, it should be understood,” he said.

Singh said an inquiry would aid transparency. “It is hard to explore and investigate for any individual as it feels like it’s a closed curtain in what is happening behind the stage and what decisions are being made for the future,” he said.

The UK’s four nations could launch their own inquiries and the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group wants “a joined-up approach to common questions and areas of evidence”.

Wales’ first minister, Mark Drakeford, said this week a public inquiry into the Welsh government’s handling of Covid-19 needs to be held when the “pandemic is behind us”. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has promised a public inquiry, but a letter from 20 organisations representing affected communities urging it to commence, has so far gone unanswered.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Michael Rosen backs calls for Covid UK public inquiry | UK news

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