Boris Johnson has been forced to announce a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.
It follows over a year of disastrous and deadly policies that have led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Johnson said it is “absolutely vital” to “learn the lessons” of the government’s response to Covid-19. He claimed the inquiry would be “fully independent” and would “rigorously and candidly” examine Tory policies.
The move reflects growing anger among ordinary people over Tory mishandling of the pandemic and a clamour for the government to be held to account. But there are big dangers.
For all Johnson’s warm words, it isn’t clear what the remit or scope of the inquiry will be. It may exclude some areas of the government’s response from scrutiny.
It won’t even begin until perhaps a year’s time from now—and who knows how long it will take to complete.
Disgracefully Johnson claimed the delay was to ensure officials’ time wasn’t taken up with an inquiry if virus cases rise again this year. “We must not divert or distract the people on whom we depend in our struggle against this disease,” he said.
It’s an admission that the Tories’ roadmap out of lockdown is in fact full of risk. On Monday, Johnson claimed easing restrictions could go ahead safely.
Now he admits there’s a “huge likelihood” of a surge in virus cases this winter. Johnson, once again, is accepting that his policies will lead to more virus cases and, inevitably, more deaths.
He hopes talk of an inquiry can offset some of the anger and let him pose as someone who is taking the pandemic seriously. In reality, he’s looking after his own back.
An inquiry that won’t begin for months gives Johnson more time to justify avoiding answering awkward questions.
For instance, former Tory adviser Dominic Cummings is due to give evidence this month to an MPs’ committee on the government’s handling of the virus. But when Johnson is called before the committee, he will be able to say he’s unable to comment on specifics due to the impending inquiry.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group has long called for an inquiry into the Tories’ deadly handling of the pandemic. It rightly wants Johnson and the rest of the murderers to be held accountable for their actions.
The group said Johnson’s plan is “simply too late” and that “lives are at stake” if lessons are not learned fast. “A rapid review in summer 2020 could have saved our loved ones who died in the second wave in winter,” it said.
Everyone who has suffered as a result of coronavirus deserves much more than Johnson is prepared to give.
And we don’t need an inquiry to know why coronavirus became a devastating pandemic.
On the day Johnson announced his inquiry plans, a panel report commissioned by the World Health Organisation was released. “Covid-19 remains a global disaster,” it said. “Worse, it was a preventable disaster.”
The report details how governments across the world, including in Britain, repeatedly failed to contain the pandemic. There were “weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response”.
For decades, governments had ignored repeated warnings about the risks of a deadly pandemic. This resulted in a “massive failure—an outbreak became a devastating pandemic”.
Putting money above health was a large part of why that happened.
So the panel said preparing for national pandemics was “vastly underfunded”. Instead, for most countries, “‘wait and see’ seemed a less costly and less consequential choice than concerted public health action”.
Failing to act quickly has meant millions of people have died unnecessarily worldwide. And Tory failings made Britain one of the worst-hit countries in the world.
Co-chair of the panel Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said China identified the new virus promptly at the end of 2019 and raised warnings. But there was a “lost month” in February 2020 while governments dithered.
The Tories didn’t impose any kind of restrictions until March, and even then it was reluctant. Later in 2020, Johnson would say that he would rather let “the bodies pile high” than impose another lockdown.
The result was a second wave that killed even more people than the first, including in care homes.
The panel said its message was clear – no more pandemics. As the Tories race towards policies that will mean yet more virus cases, it’s clear the message hasn’t got through.
But failing to do so “will condemn the world to successive catastrophes”. And it will be ordinary people and the poorest who will pay for it.