The Government will commission an independent inquiry into its handling of the Covid pandemic, although it will not launch until Spring 2022.
In a statement to the House of Commons today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued the delay was necessary so as to not ‘inadvertently divert and distract’ the Government, scientific advisers or the NHS.
He said this comes as ‘ the end of the lockdown is not the end of the pandemic’, citing WHO warnings that although the pandemic has ‘reached its global peak’ it ‘will last throughout this year’.
He also admitted that ‘there could still be another resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths’ and that, should new variants ‘prove highly transmissable’ and ‘elude the protection of our vaccines’, ‘they would have the potential to cause even greater suffering than we endured in January’.
He further warned there was ‘in any case a high likelihood of a surge this Winter when the weather assists the transmission of all respiratory diseases and the pressure on our NHS is most acute’.
Confirming the impending inquiry, he said the UK had ‘found itself in the teeth of the gravest pandemic for a century, imposing heart-breaking sorrow on families across the world with more than 127,000 lives lost’.
But he insisted that ‘our grief would have been still greater without the daily heroism of the men and women of our [NHS], the protection of our vaccines, already in the arms of over two-thirds of adults across the UK – and the dedication of everyone who has followed the rules and sacrificed so much that we cherish’.
‘Amid such tragedy, the State has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and candidly as possible, and to learn every lesson for the future, which is why I have always said that when the time is right there should be a full and independent inquiry,’ he said.
The inquiry will have statutory powers under the Inquiries Act of 2005, including the ability to compel the production of all relevant materials, and take oral evidence in public, under oath, he added.
The BMA, which has previously demanded such an inquiry, has suggested its remits should include PPE provision, the testing strategy and wellbeing of health and care staff during the pandemic.
But commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement, BMA Council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that ‘whilst it would not be right to distract healthcare staff from their hugely important day to day work’ the Government ‘mustn’t use that as an excuse to not get this inquiry underway as soon as is effectively possible’.
He added: ‘This inquiry needs to be thorough, with no stone unturned. As we have previously made clear, it must also be about lessons being learned so the mistakes made cannot be repeated and the country is better prepared for future pandemics.
‘This inquiry must involve all those who need answers and it needs to start much earlier than the Spring of next year.’