The early measures taken by ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his cabinet, and scientific entourage during the fledgling stages of the pandemic are set to be meticulously examined as the second phase of the Covid investigation commences.
Throughout the holiday season, focus shall be cast upon the pivotal choices made in a bid to arrest the virus’ spread, ranging from lockdown impositions and border regulations to the mandated use of face masks. So, what is exactly at stake for the prior Prime Minister and his erstwhile coalition?
A landmark event of March 7, 2020, saw England topple Wales in the Six Nations rugby tournament at Twickenham, while 82,000 spectators, including Mr. Johnson himself, watched attentively. The Prime Minister was spotted exchanging pleasantries with Owen Farrell, the English team captain.
Ironically, newspapers that same day were rife with a singular story thread, with headlines like,”Official: It’s an outbreak,” and,”Millions told: work at home to fight virus.” On the same weekend, Italy’s then Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had declared a northern lockdown, owing to an incipient pandemonium in hospitals overwhelmed by Covid cases.
UK, with only two confirmed casualties, operated on a business-as-usual approach, cautioning the public to maintain hand hygiene and continue with life as normal, albeit more cautiously.
The week that followed witnessed 250,000 spectators attend the Cheltenham horse racing festival, while 3,000 football enthusiasts from Atletico Madrid were able to fly into Liverpool for a Champions League match, despite recurring Spanish travel restrictions.
Geoff Bodman, 59, attributes his Covid infection to either of these packed public events he attended. Shortly after, Bodman was put on a ventilator following a stroke and spent two months in intensive care. “With hindsight, the government should have acted more decisively and put a block on things,” Bodman articulates, “It would have been disruptive for a lot of people, but lives would have been saved.”
The second phase of the Covid-19 Public Inquiry, spearheaded by former judge Baroness Hallett, delves deeper into the decisions made post the virus’s emergence. The investigation will scrutinize government deliberations up until March 23, 2020, when the UK was pushed into a full lockdown.
The broader scope encompasses whether life-saving decisions could have been different, whether the policy of adopting scientific guidance was genuinely implemented, and whether the mandatory impositions truly helped contain the virus spread.
The inquisition will also review the economic, educational and mental health impacts of the governmental response. The experience of those, like James Hollens, who were extremely isolated during the pandemic, will also come under investigation to determine the extent of support that was offered.
The last part of the inquiry will focus on the public’s confidence in government policies and the impact of any alleged rule breaches by ministers or advisers.
At the end of this process, an official report will be made public, outlining accountability for the handling of the pandemic and potentially implicating key figures. Nevertheless, these conclusions could potentially pave the way for future civil or criminal proceedings.
As an addition, a government spokesperson conveyed the administration’s willingness to learn from any lessons flagged by the inquiry, and defended its actions throughout the pandemic as being done in the interest of preserving life and livelihood, healthcare system, and successful vaccine rollout.