UK’s public inquiry into government's handling of COVID-19 pandemic begins hearings

According to the latest tally, there have been 227,321 deaths in the UK with Covid on the death certificate

Representative image (photo: Getty Images)
Representative image (photo: Getty Images)

Aditi Khanna/PTI

The UK’s public inquiry into the country’s preparedness and handling of COVID-19 opened for hearings in London on Tuesday amid a vigil by some bereaved families who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

The independent inquiry was formally set up last year by then prime minister Boris Johnson and began hearing evidence for the first time in the wake of some controversy over access to some government documents and messages.

The probe is being chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, who published a timetable to say nearly six weeks of hearings are planned during the first phase of Module 1, which will run until July 20.

"I have promised many times that those who suffered hardship and loss are and will always be at the heart of the inquiry, and I have done my very best within the constraints upon me of time, resources, and my terms of reference to fulfil that promise," said Baroness Hallett in her opening statement.

Addressing the small group of families gathered outside the Dorland House inquiry headquarters, the House of Lords peer said she intended to answer three key questions related to the pandemic — was the UK properly prepared; was the response appropriate; and can we learn lessons for the future?

"The pandemic affected everyone in the UK and, in many cases, continues to have a lasting impact on lives. Yet every experience is unique," she said in her call out for evidence earlier this month.

"By sharing the personal impact the pandemic had on you, your life and your loved ones, you can help me and the Inquiry’s legal team to shape my recommendations so that the UK is better prepared in the future. The scale of the pandemic was unprecedented, but no one’s story is the same as yours, so please help me understand the full picture by sharing your story. Every single story will matter," she said.

Under the "Every Story Matters" initiative, the inquiry has asked people to share their stories to help make recommendations for the future, by providing evidence about the human impact of the pandemic on the UK population.

It provides an opportunity for those affected by the pandemic to share their experiences without the formality of giving evidence or attending a public hearing, the inquiry said of its online and offline options open to people to share their experiences.

"I hope that as many people with a learning disability take part in Every Story Matters so that our voices are heard by the inquiry. Mencap has been working with the inquiry to make Every Story Matters as accessible as possible and we have found working with the inquiry team enjoyable as they have been good at listening to us and what people with learning disabilities need to take part in Every Story Matters," said Vijay Patel, an Indian-origin campaigns officer of the learning disabilities charity Mencap.

The hearings, which are open to the public, will be available on YouTube and the inquiry will also publish a transcript of the hearing at the end of each working day.

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