The National Covid Memorial Wall opposite the Palace of Westminster in central London (Victoria Jones/PA)
31 October 2022

Political decision-making focus of Covid inquiry’s second preliminary hearing

31 October 2022

Political decision-making in Westminster during the coronavirus pandemic will come under the spotlight during the second preliminary hearing of the public inquiry.

On Monday more detail will emerge on how political decisions and actions in relation to the pandemic will be scrutinised throughout module two of the probe.

This will cover a period between early January 2020 until February 2022, when the remaining Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

According to a draft scope, it will “pay particular scrutiny to the decisions taken by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, as advised by the Civil Service, senior political, scientific and medical advisers, and relevant Cabinet sub-committees, between early January and late March 2020, when the first national lockdown was imposed”.

Evidence sessions are due to begin in summer next year.

Aspects that this part of the inquiry will examine include decisions that led to imposing the three national lockdowns and regional restrictions, and other measures such as working from home, the reduction of person-to-person contact, and use of face coverings.

This will include the “timeliness and reasonableness” of such decisions, and “the likely effects had decisions to intervene been taken earlier, or differently”.

It will also look into the impact of alleged breaches of rules and standards, by ministers, officials and advisers, on public confidence in the Government.

Other aspects include the initial understanding of, and response to, the nature and spread of Covid-19, and access to and use in decision-making of medical and scientific expertise, data collection and modelling relating to the spread of the virus.

During Monday’s session inquiry counsel will also provide an update on who has been granted core participant status.

These are individuals, organisations or institutions with a specific interest in the inquiry, who can access relevant evidence, make opening and closing statements and suggest lines of questioning to inquiry counsel.

Hannah Brady, spokeswoman for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said: “The public health measures taken in Government were the most critical decisions made in the pandemic.

“Here, more than ever the inquiry must listen to the bereaved to understand the impact of those decisions, and what lessons can be learnt to protect lives in the future.

“Baroness (Heather) Hallett has said that she’ll put us at the heart of the inquiry, and we really hope that she’ll turn her warm words into actions today by listening to our concerns about the proposed ‘listening exercise’.”

The group was referring to plans to enable potentially hundreds of thousands of people to share their experiences via a listening exercise, without formally giving evidence or attending a hearing.

They have expressed concern that they may not be able to share their “individual pain” directly.

Inquiry chairwoman Lady Hallett said during the first preliminary hearing “there is absolutely no question that the bereaved will be marginalised”.

Monday’s hearing will take place at a venue on Bishop’s Bridge Road in west London.

Further preliminary hearings concerning decision-making in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be held in the same location on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Places inside the hearing centre will be available to members of the public on a first-come-first-served basis.

The session will also be livestreamed with a three-minute delay on the inquiry’s YouTube channel.

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