Boris Johnson commits to independent inquiry into handling of coronavirus pandemic

15 July 2020, 13:57

Johnson confirms there will be a Covid-19 inquiry but not yet

By Megan White

Boris Johnson has committed to an independent inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but said it could not start while the UK was “in the middle of combating” the crisis.

The Prime Minister told MPs he does not believe now is the right time for such an investigation but it will "certainly" happen in the future.

Lib Dem acting co-leader Sir Ed Davey called on the Prime Minister to "commit in principle to a future public inquiry" on the handling of the pandemic.

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He said: "Under this PM we suffered one of the worst death rates in the world and Europe's worst death rate for health and care workers.

"Previously he's refused my demand for an immediate independent inquiry, saying it's too soon, even though back in 2003 he voted for an independent inquiry into the Iraq war just months after that conflict had started.

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“If he still rejects an immediate inquiry, will he instead commit in principle to a future public inquiry, yes or no?"

Mr Johnson replied: "As I've told the House several times, I do not believe that now in the middle of combating, still as we are, a pandemic is the right moment to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry, but of course we will seek to learn the lessons of this pandemic in the future and certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened."

Labour's Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen) also called for daily postcode-level data to be released on coronavirus cases.

Ms Brabin said: "Could I ask the Prime Minister to help us in the councils and the communities like Batley and Spen? Can we have daily postcode data and also can the Prime Minister commit to a package of support so that businesses can close and individuals can do the right thing to benefit all of us?"

Mr Johnson replied: "Well yes of course, we're committing to sharing as much data as we have with councils so that they can get on, at a local level, as they have been, dealing with the pandemic.

"And we will continue to support councils up and down the land as they engage in local action to make sure the whole country can start to get back to work."

Last week, leading scientists said the Government's current strategy to deal with coronavirus is "inadequate" and should be replaced with the aim of eradicating the virus from the UK.

Dr Gabriel Scally, professor of public health at the University of Bristol, said that the "firm" measures taken across the UK have been successful in curbing the "enormous" death toll but had not succeeded in eliminating the virus.

He said that that the current strategy of the UK Government appeared to be containing the virus at its current level and tackling outbreaks as they flare up, he added.

But, speaking at a BMJ online discussion, the member of Independent Sage said this was "inadequate" and that the Government had consistently failed to heed "broad-based scientific advice".

Sage has proposed a Zero Covid UK strategy to eradicate the virus from the UK and Republic of Ireland and called on the Government to publish its strategic plan for the "rest of the period of the pandemic".

Earlier this month, the health ombudsman called on the Government to provide clarity around a public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The Whitehall watchdog which deals with complaints against the NHS in England said learning the lessons from any mistakes made of the handling of the coronavirus crisis is vital.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) wrote to Downing Street asking it to establish what future inquiries or reviews will take place.

The public has been asked to tell the NHS and other public bodies if they have concerns around the service they have been given during the crisis, and to come to the PHSO if it is not resolved.