Boris Johnson has a responsibility to meet with Covid bereaved families and accept an urgent inquiry is needed
[Boris Johnson] agreed live on television that he would meet with us...less than a week later [he] went back on his word and said he was too busy to meet our group, writes Jo Goodman. | PA Images
A public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic must happen if we are to learn lessons, save lives and prevent people from suffering through the same pain we have.
Last week marked one year since the first case of Covid-19 was identified in China, and before long many families in the UK will be marking the one-year anniversary since their loved one died of the virus. I lost my dad, Stuart, to Covid-19 in April.
It is estimated that for every single person who loses their life, five grieving people are left behind. At nearly 54,000 Covid-19 deaths in the UK to date, and with the ONS putting excess deaths at over 70,000, well over a quarter of a million people will be left this year without their loved ones sat around the Christmas table.
That number is still rising. Around 500 people are dying in the UK from Covid-19 per day. That’s the equivalent of two jumbo jets falling out of the sky. Every single day.
Those who have lost loved ones to this virus have important insights into how we can handle this pandemic going forward. From PPE shortages and how the virus spread within care homes and hospitals, to NHS 111 and the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on BAME communities. That’s why I co-founded Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice.
Every new member of our group is heartbreaking. It represents another loved one lost
Since we started our group, over 2,000 people bereaved by the virus have come together, with more joining every week. It has proven to be a place of comfort and somewhere to share our collective grief. It has also formed the basis for our campaign demanding a statutory public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our petition to that effect has now amassed over 200,000 signatures.
While we are grateful for this outpouring of support, the growth of our campaign does not bring us joy. Every new member of our group is heartbreaking. It represents another loved one lost to this virus and it means we have still not learned the lessons from the first wave of the pandemic.
We do not want an inquiry to point the finger or lay blame, but we know it must happen if we are to learn these important lessons and save lives, so that people don’t go through the same pain that we have.
Inquiries often have a reputation for being long, drawn-out and expensive. That is why this inquiry should include a rapid review first phase which can report back within weeks. There is precedent for such a review – the inquiry by Lord Justice Taylor after the Hillsborough Disaster reported back in just 30 days and quickly identified important measures to ensure safety in football stadiums.
We first wrote to Boris Johnson in June this year, asking him to meet with us and hear first-hand our experiences of this pandemic. He declined. But we persevered and wrote to him four more times and, after our fifth letter, he agreed live on television that he would meet with us.
Finally, we thought someone might actually hear us out. Less than a week later, Boris Johnson went back on his word and said he was too busy to meet our group.
What’s worse, he then lied in Parliament and said he couldn’t meet us because we were in litigation with the government. We are not, and have never been, in litigation with the government. Despite writing to the Prime Minister, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, this is a lie that has been repeated by government ministers, including the Health Secretary and most recently by Cabinet Office Minister Lord True.
So, last week we decided to take our message to the Prime Minister.
On Wednesday, alongside campaign group Led By Donkeys, we projected messages from members of our group onto the face of Parliament, demanding Boris Johnson stands by his word and stops ignoring bereaved people. It is gut churning for me to watch that video. To watch people who have been let down so badly by this government plead for answers and for common human decency, all in the name of protecting others.
It featured a message from Lobby, Deborah and Jamie which could not be ignored: there are lessons to be learned here that can prevent other people from feeling the same pain that we feel every day.
Cases are continuing to rise as we approach Christmas, a time which should be for celebration but is instead one marred by grief and the memories of our loved ones. Personally, I will try to focus on the good memories, like Dad’s insistence on wearing a hat emblazoned with the words ‘Bah Humbug’ at the dinner table, and when challenged on being such a Scrooge predictably reminding us that we are, in fact, Jewish. I never thought I’d miss his grumpy old man act so much.
These are unprecedented times which call for an unprecedented response. Believe me, we don’t want any more people to have cause to join our group.
It’s time for a Covid-19 inquiry, now.
Jo Goodman is the co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice.