Covid inquiry's public hearings to begin in 2023 – BBC

By Doug Faulkner
BBC News

The inquiry into the UK government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic will not hold public hearings until 2023, its chair has said.
Baroness Hallett said her team would gather evidence throughout this year and she would try to deliver recommendations "as soon as possible".
The draft terms of reference for the inquiry were published on Thursday.
More than 162,000 people have died within 28 days of a positive Covid case across the UK since the pandemic began.
The inquiry, which is due to begin in the spring, will look at preparedness for the pandemic, as well as the health, care and economic response.
In an open letter Baroness Hallett, a former High Court judge, said that once it had officially begun there would be a chance for people to share their experiences of the pandemic.
She said: "I will do everything in my power to deliver recommendations as soon as possible, to ensure that in any future pandemic, the suffering and hardship many of you have experienced is reduced or prevented."
Baroness Hallett has launched a consultation on the draft terms of reference of the inquiry, running until 7 April, which will set out the scope of its investigation.
She said her team would be visiting towns and cities across the four nations of the UK to gather the views of bereaved families, community and support groups.
Baroness Hallett pledged to run "an independent, thorough and open inquiry" and said that the pandemic had had an "unprecedented impact on everyone" in the UK.
Under the current draft terms of reference, the inquiry aims to produce "a factual, narrative account" covering decision-making at all levels of government and the response of the health and care sector as well as identifying the "lessons to be learned".
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group welcomed the publication of the terms of reference as a "huge step forward" and said it looked forward to contributing to the consultation on the terms.
The Scottish government has its own Covid-19 inquiry, to be led by Judge Lady Poole, but Northern Ireland is not holding its own at this stage.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has resisted calls to hold a Wales-specific inquiry and has encouraged people to contribute to the consultation on the UK inquiry.
On Friday a further 72,898 coronavirus cases were reported across the UK with a further 114 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test.
It comes as the Office for National Statistics said infections are rising across the UK, with about one-in-25 people infected, according to the latest estimates.
Several reports have already put the UK government's handling of the pandemic under the spotlight.
A report by MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee last October said the UK's failure to do more to stop Covid spreading early in the pandemic was one of the country's worst public health failures.
Meanwhile, spending watchdog the National Audit Office found ministers were not properly prepared for a pandemic like Covid-19 and lacked detailed plans on shielding, job support schemes and school disruption.
The government said the unprecedented pandemic had challenged health systems around the world – not just the UK.
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