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Covid inquiry: What is it investigating and how does it work? Covid inquiry: What is it investigating and how does it work?
(about 2 months later)
Former Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been questioned about her handling of the pandemic by the Covid inquiry. The UK Covid inquiry is holding its first public hearings in Belfast, after earlier sessions in Edinburgh, Cardiff and London.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his predecessor Boris Johnson have already robustly defended their response. The inquiry has already heard from key politicians, government advisers, civil servants, scientific and medical experts and representatives of bereaved families.
Their evidence was part of the second round of public hearings, which focused on the government's handling of the crisis.
What is a public inquiry?What is a public inquiry?
Public inquiries respond to "public concern" about events. Established and funded by government, they are led by an independent chair.Public inquiries respond to "public concern" about events. Established and funded by government, they are led by an independent chair.
Inquiries can demand evidence and compel witnesses to attend.Inquiries can demand evidence and compel witnesses to attend.
No-one is found guilty or innocent, but conclusions are published. The government is not obliged to accept any recommendations.No-one is found guilty or innocent, but conclusions are published. The government is not obliged to accept any recommendations.
The Covid inquiry, originally announced by Mr Johnson, covers decision-making during the pandemic by the UK government and in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Coved inquiry, originally announced by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, covers decision-making during the pandemic by the UK government and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
At the time, he said the government's response would be "under the microscope". At the time, Mr Johnson said the government's response would be "under the microscope".
Covid inquiry: The UK pandemic in numbersCovid inquiry: The UK pandemic in numbers
How do Covid death rates compare across the UK?How do Covid death rates compare across the UK?
Who is leading the Covid inquiry and how does it work?Who is leading the Covid inquiry and how does it work?
The Covid inquiry began on 28 June 2022.The Covid inquiry began on 28 June 2022.
It is chaired by former judge and crossbench peer Baroness Hallett, who previously led the inquests into the 7 July London bombings.It is chaired by former judge and crossbench peer Baroness Hallett, who previously led the inquests into the 7 July London bombings.
Baroness Hallett promised the inquiry would be "thorough and fair"Baroness Hallett promised the inquiry would be "thorough and fair"
The inquiry is split into different parts. Work in four areas has begun: The inquiry is split into different parts. Work in several areas has begun:
resilience and preparednessresilience and preparedness
core UK decision-making and political governance decision-making and political governance in Westminster, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
the impact of Covid on healthcare systems the impact of Covid on healthcare systems across the UK
vaccines, therapeutics and antiviral treatmentvaccines, therapeutics and antiviral treatment
Future strands will consider:
the care sector
government procurement and PPEgovernment procurement and PPE
the care sector
test-and-tracetest-and-trace
the government's businesses and financial responses Future strands will consider:
the government's business and financial responses
health inequalitieshealth inequalities
education, children and young peopleeducation, children and young people
other public servicesother public services
There is no specific timescale for how long the inquiry will last but Lady Hallett does not expect the public hearings to run beyond summer 2026. There is no specific timescale for how long the inquiry will last - but details of public hearings through until summer 2025 have been published.
The UK inquiry is holding public hearings on the question of government decision-making in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in January, February and April 2024, respectively. A report on the inquiry's first area of work is expected in summer 2024.
Public hearings are also examining government decision-making in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland is also holding a separate inquiry, which will take evidence from many of the same experts and politicians.Scotland is also holding a separate inquiry, which will take evidence from many of the same experts and politicians.
Loss and suffering at heart of Covid inquiryLoss and suffering at heart of Covid inquiry
A tale of two very different Covid inquiriesA tale of two very different Covid inquiries
Who has given evidence during the hearings in Scotland? Who will give evidence during the hearings in Northern Ireland?
The inquiry has been looking at informal communications between Scottish government advisers and ministers. There will be 12 days of hearings between 30 April and 16 May.
The inquiry has not yet published details of all the witnesses who will appear.
It is expected to take evidence from senior politicians, including former First Minister Dame Arlene Foster and former Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, both of whom are listed as "core participants".
Other witnesses will include civil servants, the director of public health, and groups representing bereaved families, older people and those with disabilities.
Speaking at an event at the Ulster Museum, in Belfast, ahead of the hearings, inquiry secretary Ben Connah urged local people to tell their stories and help shape the final report's recommendations.
'Covid Inquiry needs to hear from people like me'
Who gave evidence during the hearings in Wales?
Most of the hearings focused on the first wave of the pandemic.
The inquiry heard from 34 witnesses, including former First Minister Mark Drakeford, who likened then Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the crisis to an "absent" football manager
First Minister Mark Drakeford criticised Boris Johnson's leadership during the pandemic
A number of witnesses accused the Welsh government of issuing conflicting, contradictory and confusing guidance and criticised the:
approach to personal protection equipment (PPE)
treatment of care-home residents
decision to close schools
The cancellation of the Wales v Scotland Six Nations rugby match, in March 2020, 24 hours before it had been due to start, was referenced several times.
Kirsten Heaven, counsel for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families Cymru:
said there had been a "passive, slow and disjointed" early response to the pandemic
criticised the "sloth-like urgency" of ministers' response
called for the publication of all relevant government WhatsApp messages
Andrew Kinnier KC, representing the Welsh government, said ministers accepted some policies had not worked as well as they had hoped but their decisions had been a "reasonable response to the unprecedented challenge to civil society".
Five things we learned from the Covid inquiry
Who gave evidence during the hearings in Scotland?
The use of WhatsApp by Scottish government advisers and ministers was a key issue.
First Minister Humza Yousaf apologised unreservedly for the Scottish government's failure to hand over relevant WhatsApp messages.First Minister Humza Yousaf apologised unreservedly for the Scottish government's failure to hand over relevant WhatsApp messages.
Nicola Sturgeon told the inquiry that she and her government were "open, transparent and accountable"Nicola Sturgeon told the inquiry that she and her government were "open, transparent and accountable"
Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted that she deleted messages from the period.Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted that she deleted messages from the period.
But she insisted that she did not use these informal channels to reach decisions or to have substantial discussions, and that everything of relevance was available on the public record.But she insisted that she did not use these informal channels to reach decisions or to have substantial discussions, and that everything of relevance was available on the public record.
Ms Sturgeon was emotional during some of her evidence, and appeared to fight back tears as she told the inquiry that "part of me wishes I hadn't been [First Minister during the pandemic]".Ms Sturgeon was emotional during some of her evidence, and appeared to fight back tears as she told the inquiry that "part of me wishes I hadn't been [First Minister during the pandemic]".
The awkward Covid questions Nicola Sturgeon facedThe awkward Covid questions Nicola Sturgeon faced
UK Covid inquiry in Scotland: Five things we learnedUK Covid inquiry in Scotland: Five things we learned
What did PM Rishi Sunak say to the inquiry?What did PM Rishi Sunak say to the inquiry?
The prime minister apologised to "all those who suffered... as a result of the actions that were taken", but denied his Eat Out to Help Out Scheme had increased Covid infections and deaths. Mr Sunak gave evidence during the second round of public hearings in London, which focused on UK decision-making and political governance.
He apologised to "all those who suffered... as a result of the actions that were taken", but denied his Eat Out to Help Out Scheme had increased Covid infections and deaths.
Rishi Sunak served food at Wagamama as part of a promotional event for Eat Out to Help OutRishi Sunak served food at Wagamama as part of a promotional event for Eat Out to Help Out
He also rejected earlier evidence from the government's chief medical officer, Prof Sir Chris Whitty, and former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance that they were not consulted about the policy.He also rejected earlier evidence from the government's chief medical officer, Prof Sir Chris Whitty, and former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance that they were not consulted about the policy.
Did Sunak's Eat Out scheme help to spread Covid?Did Sunak's Eat Out scheme help to spread Covid?
What did Boris Johnson say to the inquiry?What did Boris Johnson say to the inquiry?
The former prime minister gave evidence across two days.The former prime minister gave evidence across two days.
The inquiry had already heard from government officials and advisers, academic experts and representatives of bereaved families, many of whom were extremely critical of Mr Johnson. The inquiry had already heard from government officials and advisers, academic experts and representatives of bereaved families, many of whom were extremely critical of his actions.
He began by apologising for the "pain and the loss and the suffering" experienced during the pandemic. Mr Johnson began by apologising for the "pain and the loss and the suffering" experienced during the pandemic.
His comments were interrupted by protesters, who were ordered to leave the room. Some members of bereaved families held up signs reading: "The dead can't hear your apologies."His comments were interrupted by protesters, who were ordered to leave the room. Some members of bereaved families held up signs reading: "The dead can't hear your apologies."
Barnard Castle, ICU and heckling: Johnson grilled at Covid inquiryBarnard Castle, ICU and heckling: Johnson grilled at Covid inquiry
Barnard Castle, ICU and heckling: Johnson grilled at Covid inquiryBarnard Castle, ICU and heckling: Johnson grilled at Covid inquiry
Mr Johnson admitted mistakes were made, and that "there were unquestionably things we should have done differently". He said he took "personal responsibility for all decisions made", but insisted that ministers had done their "level best" in difficult circumstances. He admitted mistakes were made, and that "there were unquestionably things we should have done differently". He said he took "personal responsibility for all decisions made", but insisted that ministers had done their "level best" in difficult circumstances.
Contrite, shorn of theatrics - Johnson's first day at inquiryContrite, shorn of theatrics - Johnson's first day at inquiry
Five takeaways from Johnson at the Covid inquiryFive takeaways from Johnson at the Covid inquiry
Who else gave evidence during the second round of hearings? Who else gave evidence during the second round of public hearings?
The inquiry heard from Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock - who previously told the inquiry the UK's pandemic strategy had been completely wrong - denied he lied to colleagues during his period in office. Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock - who previously told the inquiry the UK's pandemic strategy had been completely wrong - denied he lied to colleagues during his period in office.
But he admitted the UK should have locked down much sooner and criticised the "toxic culture" in government, for which he blamed Mr Johnson's former adviser Dominic Cummings.But he admitted the UK should have locked down much sooner and criticised the "toxic culture" in government, for which he blamed Mr Johnson's former adviser Dominic Cummings.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove also apologised to "victims and families who endured so much loss", but denied Mr Johnson could not take decisions.Cabinet minister Michael Gove also apologised to "victims and families who endured so much loss", but denied Mr Johnson could not take decisions.
Sir Chris, his former deputy Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam and Sir Patrick revealed significant tensions between their advice to government and its political priorities, such as over Eat Out to Help Out.Sir Chris, his former deputy Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam and Sir Patrick revealed significant tensions between their advice to government and its political priorities, such as over Eat Out to Help Out.
Mr Johnson, Sir Chris and Sir Patrick talked to journalists at Downing St during the pandemicMr Johnson, Sir Chris and Sir Patrick talked to journalists at Downing St during the pandemic
Sir Jonathan revealed he and his family had received death threats, while Sir Patrick said he had also considered resigning over abuse.Sir Jonathan revealed he and his family had received death threats, while Sir Patrick said he had also considered resigning over abuse.
Former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara told the inquiry that she struggled "to pick one day" when Covid rules were properly followed inside a "macho" and "toxic" No 10.Former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara told the inquiry that she struggled "to pick one day" when Covid rules were properly followed inside a "macho" and "toxic" No 10.
Dominic Cummings was highly critical of former MP Boris Johnson's approachDominic Cummings was highly critical of former MP Boris Johnson's approach
In his evidence, Mr Cummings described a "dysfunctional" government with no plans to lock down the country or shield the vulnerable.In his evidence, Mr Cummings described a "dysfunctional" government with no plans to lock down the country or shield the vulnerable.
The inquiry heard scathing text messages which he sent, many of which contained offensive descriptions of ministers and officials.The inquiry heard scathing text messages which he sent, many of which contained offensive descriptions of ministers and officials.
He said he regretted the disastrous handling of his infamous trip to Barnard Castle during the first lockdown, but denied his actions had damaged public trust.He said he regretted the disastrous handling of his infamous trip to Barnard Castle during the first lockdown, but denied his actions had damaged public trust.
Covid inquiry WhatsApps paint picture of chaosCovid inquiry WhatsApps paint picture of chaos
How inquiry is exposing deep flaws in Covid decision-makingHow inquiry is exposing deep flaws in Covid decision-making
Who gave evidence during the first public hearings? Who gave evidence during the first round of public hearings?
The first public hearings, linked to the UK's resilience and preparedness, took evidence from 69 independent experts and former and current government officials and ministers. The first public hearings, which considered the UK's resilience and preparedness, took evidence from 69 independent experts and former and current government officials and ministers.
Prof Dame Sally Davies tells the Covid inquiry that "it wasn't just the deaths, it was the way they died".Prof Dame Sally Davies tells the Covid inquiry that "it wasn't just the deaths, it was the way they died".
Prof Dame Sally Davies tells the Covid inquiry that "it wasn't just the deaths, it was the way they died".Prof Dame Sally Davies tells the Covid inquiry that "it wasn't just the deaths, it was the way they died".
These included former health secretaries Jeremy Hunt and Matt Hancock, former prime minister David Cameron and former first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.These included former health secretaries Jeremy Hunt and Matt Hancock, former prime minister David Cameron and former first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.
Sir Chris, his predecessor Prof Dame Sally Davies, and Sir Patrick also gave evidence during the first hearings.Sir Chris, his predecessor Prof Dame Sally Davies, and Sir Patrick also gave evidence during the first hearings.
Covid Inquiry: What have we learnt so far?Covid Inquiry: What have we learnt so far?
When will the inquiry publish conclusions?
Baroness Hallett said she intends to publish the report for the first area of work "as soon as possible" - hopefully by early summer 2024.
A report based on the second round of hearings is also due in 2024.
Public hearings for the third area of examination - the impact of the pandemic on healthcare systems across the UK - are expected to run for 10 weeks from autumn 2024.
But the inquiry will not take evidence in summer 2024 about the development of vaccines and other drugs, as planned.
Witness hearings will be postponed, probably until after the next general election.
Organisations needed more time to prepare for a separate investigation into the impact of Covid on the NHS, Lady Hallett said.
How can the public get involved?How can the public get involved?
Anyone can share their experience through the inquiry's Every Story Matters project.Anyone can share their experience through the inquiry's Every Story Matters project.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group - which criticised the government's handling of the pandemic - urged the inquiry to ensure these voices are heard.The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group - which criticised the government's handling of the pandemic - urged the inquiry to ensure these voices are heard.
Public hearings are streamed on the BBC News website and the inquiry's YouTube channel, and witness transcripts are published on the inquiry website.Public hearings are streamed on the BBC News website and the inquiry's YouTube channel, and witness transcripts are published on the inquiry website.
Members of the public can also apply to attend in person.Members of the public can also apply to attend in person.
Related TopicsRelated Topics
WalesWales
Coronavirus public inquiryCoronavirus public inquiry
Covid-19 Bereaved Families for JusticeCovid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice
ScotlandScotland
Boris JohnsonBoris Johnson
Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland
EnglandEngland
Rishi SunakRishi Sunak
Matthew HancockMatthew Hancock
CoronavirusCoronavirus