The Covid-19 inquiry has heard how the UK’s preparations for the pandemic were crowded out and hindered by the government’s focus on a potential no-deal Brexit, according to Hugo Keith KC, the lead lawyer to the inquiry.
Keith highlighted that the resources and capacity needed for pandemic planning may have been drained due to the extensive work and planning around a no-deal exit from the European Union threatened by Boris Johnson.
Keith informed Baroness Hallett, the chair of the inquiry, that significant efforts were put into planning for the severe consequences of a no-deal Brexit, including impacts on food and medicine supplies, travel, and transport.
He emphasized that this planning, which commenced in 2018, had crowded out and prevented many of the improvements that the central government itself recognized were essential for resilience planning and preparedness.
The government’s Operation Yellowhammer document, published in 2019, outlined a series of reasonable worst-case assumptions in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
It highlighted real risks such as public disorder, higher food prices, and reduced medical supplies.
Keith raised the question of whether the attention given to the risks of a no-deal exit drained the necessary resources and capacity that should have been dedicated to fighting the next pandemic and preparing the United Kingdom for civil emergencies.
Keith expressed concerns that the country may not have been adequately prepared to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, as evidenced by the lack of consideration given to the potential impact of lockdowns.
The inquiry heard emotional testimonies from bereaved families, recounting heartbreaking stories of individuals dying alone from Covid-19. Lady Hallett assured the families that their experiences would always be at the heart of the inquiry.
Representatives of the bereaved highlighted a lack of ministerial leadership and chaotic committees that resulted in poor planning and reactive response to the virus.
They stressed the importance of examining the government’s responsibility and the chaos that contributed to a delayed response, where every moment lost equated to lost lives.
The inquiry’s first module focuses on the country’s preparedness for the crisis and will investigate any impact arising from the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Additionally, the inquiry team will scrutinize the effectiveness of the vaccine program and examine whether the UK’s response was more successful outside of the EU.
Upcoming inquiry hearings are expected to include appearances by former Prime Minister David Cameron and former Chancellor George Osborne.
The TUC has criticized their austerity cuts, which they claim left the NHS and social care sector dangerously understaffed.
Amidst the ongoing inquiry, care minister Helen Whately refrained from endorsing former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s assertion that the government established a protective ring around care homes during the peak of the pandemic.
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