No10’s long-awaited Covid inquiry will examine how badly lockdowns impacted the nation’s mental health and children.
Officials today revealed the scope of the independent probe would be broadened to include the wider impacts of pandemic restrictions.
There were fears the investigation would fall into the same trap as an MP-led report last year which focused on lives lost directly to the virus and concluded ministers should have locked down for longer.
Since then, data has accrued suggesting the benefits of lockdowns were overblown and the wider consequences were underestimated.
The inquiry, which already included 26 topics, is being chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett. She will have the power to summon witnesses to give evidence under oath — even the Prime Minister.
After reviewing more than 20,000 responses to her original draft terms of reference last month, the main complaint was that they were too narrow.
The inquiry will now also examine the pandemic’s unequal impact on ethnic minority groups and collaboration between the devolved administrations.
Children faced massive disruptions to their education during the pandemic, despite being at a vanishingly small risk of the virus.
Psychiatrists have described the pandemic as the ‘biggest hit’ to mental wellbeing in generations, following a record 4.3million mental health referrals in 2021.
Baroness Heather Hallett will lead the inquiry and has urged people to provide feedback on the draft topics they are set to probe
Baroness Heather Hallett: A retired Court of Appeal judge who is no stranger to high profile inquests and inquiries
Baroness Heather Hallett is no stranger to taking charge of high profile inquests and inquiries.
The 71-year-old former Court of Appeal judge has been entrusted by Boris Johnson with chairing the long-awaited public probe into the coronavirus crisis.
Her handling of the inquiry will be subject to ferocious scrutiny.
But Baroness Hallett, who retired from the Court of Appeal in 2019, has experience of operating in the public eye.
She is currently acting as the coroner in the inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess who died in July 2018 following exposure to the nerve agent Novichok.
A new chair for that inquiry is expected to be appointed early in the new year.
She previously acted as the coroner for the inquests into the deaths of the 52 victims of the July 7, 2005 London bombings.
She also chaired the Iraq Fatalities Investigations as well as the 2014 Hallett Review of the administrative scheme to deal with ‘on the runs’ in Northern Ireland.
Baroness Hallett was nominated for a life peerage in 2019 as part of Theresa May’s resignation honours.
The married mother-of-two joined the House of Lords as a crossbench life peer.
In a letter sent to Boris Johnson today, Baroness Hallett asked to expand the terms of reference to include children and young people, including the impact on health, wellbeing and social care education.
It should also examine the ‘impacts on mental health’ and the wellbeing of the UK population, she said.
And collaboration between officials and charities across the UK’s four nations should also be within the inquiry’s scope, the letter states.
Baroness Hallett also called for a sharper focus on care services provided in people’s homes, support for victims of domestic abuse and first contact with the NHS, including 111 and 999 services.
Other topics already included in the scope are Government preparedness, testing, borders, infection control in hospitals and care homes, PPE, vaccines, furlough and sick pay.
Baroness Hallett, an ex-Court of Appeal judge who has been involved in other public probes, made the decision to expand the inquiry after meeting with over 150 bereaved families and organisations over a four-week consultation.
She said the process ‘demonstrated people’s passion to be part of the Inquiry and their desire to work with me to ensure valuable lessons are learned’.
People voiced concerns about the ‘unequal impact of the pandemic’, so the inequalities should be at the ‘forefront’ of the investigation, she added.
The inquiry, poised to begin in the next few months, will have the power to summon witnesses to give evidence under oath — even the Prime Minister.
It has been tasked with examining the UK’s response to the pandemic, with the goal of ensuring the country learns ‘the right lessons for the future’.
Those involved in the investigation will comb through millions of documents relating to the handling of the pandemic.
Campaigners last month called for ‘any rule-breaking by any rule-makers’, such as Partygate, to be investigated as part of the inquiry.
Bereaved Families for Justice (BFJ) said that ‘any rule-breaking by any rule-makers’ should be investigated. This should include any ministers who ‘broke their own restriction rules’.
Source: Daily Mail