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UK Covid-19 Inquiry – latest update - October 2022

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On 4 October 2022, the Covid-19 Inquiry held its first preliminary hearing for Module 1 of the Inquiry, which will examine the UK’s resilience and preparedness for the Covid-19 pandemic. During the hearing, the Inquiry heard opening statements from a number of Core Participants and provided updates about the Inquiry’s Module 1 hearings and plans for a Listening Exercise.

Baroness Hallett, Chair of the Inquiry opened proceedings by reflecting on the loss suffered during the course of the pandemic, saying: “There is one word that sums up the pandemic for so many and that is the word loss. Although there were positive aspects of the pandemic … millions of people suffered loss, including the loss of friends and family members, the loss of good health both mental and physical, economic loss, the loss of educational opportunities and the loss of social interaction. Those who were bereaved lost the most.” Baroness Hallett said that in Module 1, the Inquiry is set to analyse the UK’s state of readiness for the pandemic and the response to it and to determine whether that level of loss was inevitable or whether things could have been done better.

More broadly, Baroness Hallett shared that her principal aim is to “produce reports and recommendations before another disaster strikes the four nations of the United Kingdom and if it is possible to reduce the number of deaths, the suffering, and the hardship.” To that end, she has set what she described as an “ambitious” timetable. Acknowledging that the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference cover a “huge breadth of issues”, one of her earliest decisions was to break the issues into several modules. Each module involves a gathering of evidence by the Inquiry (which has already commenced), followed by public hearings, which will be live-streamed, as is now common practice for public inquiries. Hearings will be held in sequence but are not intended to be set out in order of importance and the order and scope of later modules may be amended.

The proceedings confirmed that there are 28 Core Participants for Module 1. Those who have been unsuccessful in being granted Core Participant status for Module 1 can reapply for Core Participant status in later modules.

During the hearing, Baroness Hallett also gave a number of procedural updates about Module 1 in relation to the Inquiry’s progress with gathering evidence, which is already underway, with a number of Core Participants having already received Rule 9 requests.The Inquiry also confirmed that those who are asked to provide disclosure will be asked to provide an account setting out details of how documents were originally stored, the search terms used to locate documents, and the nature of any review carried out prior to disclosure to the Inquiry.

Additional information was also provided on later modules. It was confirmed that Module 3 will “examine the impact of Covid and the governmental responses on the healthcare systems generally across the United Kingdom…” looking at the impact on hospitals, primary critical care, capacity, triage systems, the shielding and care of extremely vulnerable people, NHS backlog and the treatment of long Covid sufferers. It was also confirmed that later modules will broadly look at vaccines, therapeutics, the care sector, Government procurement and PPE, testing and tracing, the Government’s financial responses, as well as the impact of Covid on health inequalities, the education and business sectors, children and young persons, and on public services and other public sectors.

Alongside the preparation and hearings for the modules, the Inquiry also confirmed its plans to conduct a Listening Exercise, which is intended to provide an opportunity for anyone across the UK to contribute to the Inquiry in a less formal setting. Details of the Inquiry’s current plans for the Listening Exercise will shortly be available on the Inquiry’s website; it is likely to involve an online platform where people can share their experiences and targeted face-to-face sessions. The Inquiry also intends to find a way, or ways, to commemorate those who were lost during the pandemic.

Preliminary hearings for Module 2, 2A, 2B and 2C, which will examine political and administrative decision-making of the UK and devolved governments (with a particular focus on early 2020), are scheduled to commence from late autumn 2022. A further preliminary hearing for Module 1 will take place in early 2023 in London, with the venue and date to be confirmed. Public evidential hearings for Module 1 will be in May 2023, provisionally for four weeks (although this will remain under review).

Further reading

Our Inquiries & Investigations team have written extensively about the Covid Inquiry. Read the previous articles in the series on our dedicated Covid Inquiry Hub.