The Covid-19 inquiry timeline and what it's hoped it will achieve

Evidence will be heard from hundreds of those affected, including leading medical and political figures, during the inquiry. Romilly Weeks explains what to expect

By Lewis Denison, ITV News Westminster producer

The coronavirus pandemic feels like a distant memory to many, but for those who caught Long Covid the nightmare feels like it won't end - and bereaved families still want answers.

Final restrictions were lifted in England well over a year ago and in early May the World Health Organization (WHO) decided the deadly virus was no longer a global health emergency.

Vaccines eventually halted the pandemic after over a quarter of a million Covid-related deaths. But the WHO is already warning that the "threat of another pathogen emerging with even deadlier potential remains".

And despite some claiming it is time to move on, lawmakers are still being accused of being lawbreakers, with former PM Boris Johnson being referred to police over potential rule breaches at Chequers.

What is the Covid-19 inquiry hoped to achieve?

The inquiry, which was set up by Mr Johnson, is seeking to "examine the UK’s response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and learn lessons for the future".

It will examine the response and the impact of the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and produce a factual narrative account.

There are several main aims, as set out in the terms of reference agreed by Mr Johnson. They are:

  • Assess the response of the health and care sector across the UK

  • Evaluate the economic response to the pandemic and its impact, including governmental interventions

  • Identify the lessons to be learned from the above, to inform preparations for future pandemics across the UK

This includes, but is not limited to looking at advice on shielding and the protection of the clinically vulnerable, along with the use of lockdowns and other ‘non-pharmaceutical’ interventions such as social distancing and face coverings.

The impact of isolation, testing and contact tracing will also be looked at, as will the closure and reopening of schools and other industries.

Consideration will also be given to the procurement and distribution of key equipment and supplies, including PPE and ventilators as well as how borders were opened and closed.

The development, delivery and impact of vaccines will also be assessed, as will the use of support schemes.

The full terms of reference can be read here.

When announcing the inquiry, Mr Johnson said it will look at the UK Covid response “under the microscope” and “we should be mindful of the scale of that undertaking and the resources required to do it properly”.

When does it start?

So far the inquiry has opened three investigations and the first substantive hearing, looking at the UK's resilience and preparedness (module 1), is set to take place on June 13.

The first oral hearing of module 2, the core UK decision-making and political governance, is set for summer 2023.

And the date for an oral hearing of module 3, the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on healthcare systems in the four nations, has not yet been set.

The timetable for oral hearings for these modules will be issued shortly, the inquiry said.

Plans have been set out for three further investigations to begin this year and details including the probes' scope and how to apply to be core participant will be published when they open.

Module 4 will open on June 5, examining vaccines, therapeutics and anti-viral treatment across the UK, with evidence to be heard in the summer of 2024.

Module 5, looking at UK procurement, will open in October 2023, with evidence hearings scheduled for early 2025.

Module 6, examining the care sector across the UK, will open in December and public hearings will begin in spring 2025. 

Who is working on the inquiry?

The Covid-19 Inquiry is chaired by Baroness Heather Carol Hallett, a former court of appeals judge.

She is responsible for making procedural decisions, hearing evidence, and making findings and recommendations.

Other notable members include Inquiry Secretary Ben Connah, a civil servant who is responsible for administration, and Solicitor to the Inquiry Martin Smith, who is responsible for advising the chair, obtaining evidence, corresponding with core participants, and preparing for hearings.

Counsel to the inquiry is Hugo Keith KC, whose role is to give independent legal advice to the Chair, present the evidence, question the witnesses that are called and lead the wider counsel team.

What can it do?

The inquiry has been established under the Inquiries Act (2005), which provides the chair with considerable powers.

Lady Hallett can compel people to attend as witnesses and give evidence under oath.

She can also legally demand documents to be produced. Failure to meet her demands could see people fined or imprisoned, with a maximum jail term of 51 weeks.When will the inquiry end?

Each individual investigation within the inquiry will conclude at different times but it could be more than three years before the whole thing ends.

In an update on Tuesday, Lady Hallett said: "Last year, I promised I would work hard to ensure the whole of the UK can learn useful lessons from the pandemic as quickly as possible."

A statement added: "The inquiry is aiming to complete public hearings by summer 2026."

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