Covid public inquiry: the key areas that will likely be examined

Boris Johnson has confirmed that there will be a full, independent public inquiry into how the Covid pandemic was handled.

Though details of who will lead it, the prime minister told MPs it was likely to begin in Spring 2022 and several areas are likely to be under microscope.

The pandemic has seen more than 150,000 lives lost and tens of thousands of other lives changed beyond measure.

So here are some of the key areas the inquiry is likely to examine…

Was the government too slow to enforce lockdown?

Boris Johnson’s handling of the outbreak was strongly criticised in the first weeks of 2020, when the virus began to spread across the continent, particularly in Italy.

England was late to enforce restrictions, compared to other countries in Europe, and it is believed the government considered allowing the virus to spread through the nation for herd immunity.

Then, in mid-October, it had emerged that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told the government that a «circuit breaker» lockdown in England would help slow the spread.

That was at a meeting on September 21, but the government instead opted for a three-tier system in a bid to counter Covid.

A second national lockdown didn’t come into force until November 5, which lasted four weeks.

Thousands of residents who had Covid were released from hospital into care homes

Was the government negligent when it came to care homes?

In May last year, ITV News uncovered plans to discharge at least 1,800 patients from hospital into care homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Data showed how, at the outset of the pandemic, the NHS and councils block booked beds in care homes to ensure they were ready to deal with a surge in patients coming from hospital.

NHS clinical commissioning groups and councils in 17 regions of England said they had reserved a total of 1,800 beds in care homes.

Until mid-April, patients were not routinely tested for coronavirus before being discharged into a home, with care managers having previously saying that they believe that’s how the virus spread among their residents.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 29,135 have died with Covid-19 in care homes since April 10 last year.

Was enough done to protect ethnic minorities?

The pandemic is thought to have had a disproportionate impact on minority ethnic communities in the UK when compared with white groups – with living in deprived areas, working in front-line jobs, and having poorer access to healthcare putting them at higher risk of severe disease and mortality.

People of South Asian heritage in England were particularly hard hit, experiencing greater levels of infection, severe disease and death during the second wave compared to other ethnic minority groups, according to scientists.

Researchers said that while disparities for hospital admissions and death improved for most minority ethnic groups between the first (February to September 2020) and the second wave (September to December 2020) of the pandemic, it widened for those from South Asian backgrounds.

The findings, published in the journal Lancet this month, are based on 17 million adults in England and is thought to be the largest study to date.

This may be down to a lack of trust in the government and in health authorities and some have accused the government of not doing enough to reach out to communities.

Did the government fail NHS staff?

As hospital admissions rocketed during the first wave of Covid-19, frontline NHS staff were left without enough protective clothing and equipment.

Almost half of doctors had sourced their own personal protective equipment (PPE) or relied on a donation when none was available through normal NHS channels, according to a survey by the British Medical Association.

Dr Rinesh Parmar, chairman of the Doctors’ Association UK, said doctors and nurses had to reuse masks and even held their breath because they weren’t sure they had enough protection.

In April this year, the High Court ruled the government unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds’ worth of coronavirus-related contracts.

In addition, coronvavirus contracts awarded by the government worth more than £3.7 billion raise at least one red flag for possible corruption, according to a report in April.

Transparency International UK said that how the government handled bids for supplying PPE and other pandemic contracts appeared to favour those with political access.

The independent anti-corruption organisation identified 73 contracts worth more than £3.7 billion – equivalent to 20% of all contracts between February and November of last year – whose award “merits further investigation”.

The bottom line for many NHS staff is that a lack of PPE caused fear among frontline workers who were risking their own safety to treat Covid patients in the early months of the outbreak.

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