Covid inquiry to examine impact on young people, mental health and inequality

The inquiry is expected to be held next year.

Ryan Hooper
Thursday 12 May 2022 13:12
People queue at a Covid vaccination centre at the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London (Jonathan Brady/PA)
People queue at a Covid vaccination centre at the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Covid-19 inquiry will now examine the impact of the pandemic on mental health, and on children and young people, it has been confirmed.

The terms of reference, which set out the scope of the inquiry, fall within the already established main topics of the inquiry – to examine the response to the pandemic and its impact in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and produce a factual narrative account of what happened.

It also plans to identify the lessons that can be learned so it can inform the UK’s preparations for future pandemics.

Chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett also recommended that the terms of reference be reframed “to put inequalities at its forefront so that investigation into the unequal impacts of the pandemic runs through the whole inquiry”.

Baroness Heather Hallett will chair the public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic (UK Parliament/PA)

She said in a written update to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday: “The unequal impact of the pandemic was a theme that came through strongly in responses to the consultation.

“I am therefore recommending that the terms of reference be reframed to put possible inequalities at its forefront so that investigation into any unequal impacts of the pandemic runs through the whole inquiry.

“This important recommendation will ensure the inquiry is inclusive in its approach.”

It follows a four-week consultation period in which more than 20,000 people responded, while Baroness Hallett and her team also met bereaved families and representatives from interested groups.

Queues for Covid-19 vaccines at the vaccine centre in the SSE Arena in Belfast last August (Rebecca Black/PA)

It now falls to Mr Johnson to agree to the terms of reference, although this is widely anticipated to be effectively just a rubber-stamping exercise.

The inquiry is due to begin with public hearings in 2023.

Baroness Hallett said in her letter to Mr Johnson that the consultation revealed areas where the original draft terms of reference could be improved.

She said: “I have listened to compelling arguments to focus on children and young people, the mental health and wellbeing of the UK population and collaboration between regional, devolved and national government, and the voluntary and community sector.

A nurse wearing PPE during the pandemic works on a patient in the Intensive Care Unit of St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south-west London (Victoria Jones/PA)

“I am therefore asking you to expand the terms of reference to include these issues.”

The inquiry update comes as the Metropolitan Police confirmed an additional 50 fines have been issued in the latest tranche of penalties handed out as part of Operation Hillman, the investigation into breaches of Covid-19 regulations in Whitehall and Downing Street.

It brings the total number of fines issued for lockdown-breaking parties in Westminster to more than 100, including for the Prime Minister, his wife, Carrie Johnson, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak who were hit with fixed penalty notices in April over a birthday party held for Mr Johnson.

Former Downing Street chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, accused the PM of “throwing junior staff under the bus”, adding that evidence from staff during the forthcoming Covid-19 inquiry would make Mr Johnson’s life “nightmarish”.

He wrote on Twitter, prior to confirmation of the terms of reference: “Am getting lots of texts today like, ‘I can’t WAIT for the inquiry, I took lots of notes’.”

Latest figures show more than 175,000 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test.

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