Ex-judge opens COVID inquiry into UK handling of pandemic

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LONDON (AP) — A retired judge opened a public inquiry on Tuesday into how Britain handled the coronavirus pandemic, saying bereaved families and those who suffered would be at the heart of the proceedings.

Former Court of Appeal judge Heather Hallett said the inquiry would investigate the U.K.’s preparedness for a pandemic, how the government responded, and whether the “level of loss was inevitable or whether things could have been done better.”

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to hold an inquiry on his government’s handling of the pandemic after pressure from bereaved families. COVID-19 has left more than 204,000 people in Britain dead in one of the worst death tolls in the world.

Hallett said her main aim was to produce recommendations before “another disaster strikes.”

“I have a duty to the public to conduct a thorough, fair and independent inquiry for the whole of the U.K. and I intend to do so,” she said.

She added that the inquiry would not “drag on for decades, producing reports when it is too late for them to do any good.”

The probe will have the power to summon evidence and to question witnesses under oath. Potentially hundreds of thousands of people are expected to share their experiences through a “formal listening exercise,” which was established so people can take part without physically attending a hearing or give evidence in a formal setting.

Addressing some bereaved families’ concerns that they will be “sidelined” in the investigation, Hallett said she would not be able to cover every issue in as much detail “as some may wish.”

The inquiry’s opening has been delayed for months, frustrating families. It is expected to last at least a year, with the first evidence sessions starting in spring 2023.

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