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Covid-19 Inquiry To Look At UK’s Pandemic Preparedness And Government's Health, Care And Economic Responses

3 min read

The draft terms of reference for the long-awaited public inquiry into the UK’s response to Covid-19 have been published today.

Chaired by Baroness Hallett, the investigation will look at the country’s preparedness for the pandemic, as well as the public health response, how the health and care sector responded, and the economic reaction.

It is due to get underway later this spring. The Cabinet Office said the inquiry will play a key role in "learning lessons" from dealing with coronavirus over the past two years, as well as "informing the government's preparations for the future".

It will also "reflect the importance of understanding the experiences of those most affected by the pandemic" such as bereaved families and examine any "disparities" in the impact of the pandemic.

The draft terms were written after discussion with the devolved administrations, and there will now be a further public consultation for four weeks, led by Baroness Hallett, to consider any changes to the terms before they are finalised.

The first aim of the inquiry is to produce “a factual narrative account” of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, from “preparedness and resilience” to how decisions were made and implemented across government, as well as the availability and use of data and evidence in those processes.

The inquiry will also look at key planks of the government response, from shielding, lockdowns, social distancing, self-isolation, masks, testing and contact tracing, and isolation.

The decision to shut schools, the “closure and reopening of the hospitality, retail, sport and leisure sectors, and cultural institutions”, as well as how housing and homelessness issues were dealt with, the border, prison, justice, immigration and asylum systems, and the safeguarding of public funds.

On health, the inquiry will look at initial capacity and resilience, as well as the management of the pandemic in hospitals, including infection prevention, the approach to palliative care, and the impact on staff and staffing levels.

Issues such as the procurement and distribution of PPE and ventilators, as well as the knock-on effect of the pandemic on the NHS, and the “provision for those experiencing long-Covid” will also be looked at.

One of the most controversial decisions early on in the crisis was the transfer of patients from hospitals into residential facilities and care home without testing, and the terms of reference show that too will fall under the investigation.

The economic response, such as the furlough scheme, support for businesses, additional funding for public services as well as benefits and sick pay will be interrogated.

The second part of Baroness Hallett’s job will be to Identify lessons to be learned for future pandemics, and will listen to the “experiences of bereaved families and others who have suffered hardship or loss”.

She will also highlight where lessons may be applicable to other civil emergencies, identify disparities evident in the impact of coronavirus and the state’s response, and compare the UK’s response to how other countries fared.

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