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UK government to launch independent public inquiry over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic

The inquiry will begin in spring 2022.

Image: Max Willcock

THE UK GOVERNMENT will set up an independent public inquiry with statutory powers into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs the inquiry, which was welcomed by some bereaved families, will begin in spring 2022 and will place “the state’s actions under the microscope”.

The inquiry will be able to take oral evidence under oath, he said, adding that the state has an obligation “to learn every lesson for the future”.

It comes as a damning report from the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, commissioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO), said a quicker international response could have stopped the initial Covid-19 outbreak in China becoming a global catastrophe.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson said the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible and to learn lessons for the future.

He added that devolved administrations would be consulted before the final scope of the inquiry was published.

Johnson also said the inquiry must be able to look at the events of the last year “in the cold light of day” and identify the key issues that will make a difference for the future.

“Free to scrutinise every document, to hear from all the key players and analyse and learn from the breadth of our response,” he said.

“That’s the right way, I think, to get the answers that the people of this country deserve and to ensure that our United Kingdom is better prepared for any future pandemic.”

He added: “I think we owe it to the country to have as much transparency as we possibly can and we owe it to the country to produce answers in a reasonable timescale.”

Downing Street indicated tghat Johnson would be willing to give evidence under oath if asked, with his official spokesman saying he “will conform to what is required”.

A commission on Covid commemoration is also to be established to help remember those who lost their lives during the pandemic.

“There is a solemn duty on our whole United Kingdom to come together and to cherish the memories of those who have been lost,” Johnson said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer questioned why the inquiry could not start before spring 2022, suggesting it could start later this year.

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The WHO-commissioned study from the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response says the current global system was not adequate to protect people from Covid-19.

It said it took too long from a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown origin in mid-late December 2019 to a public health emergency of international concern being declared.

The panel also said February 2020 was a month when many more countries could have taken steps to contain the spread of Covid and “forestall the global health, social, and economic catastrophe” that continues.

Panel co-chairwoman and former president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said: “Our message is simple and clear: the current system failed to protect us from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“And if we do not act to change it now, it will not protect us from the next pandemic threat, which could happen at any time.”

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