UK PM Boris Johnson updating MPs on the Covid-19 pandemic in a socially distanced, hybrid session at the House of Commons, in central London on May 12, 2021 (AFP)
LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced a “full and independent” public inquiry into his government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, set to begin in the first half of 2022.
In a statement to members of Parliament during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons, Johnson said the inquiry will be able to take oral evidence under oath and put the government’s response to the crisis last year under the microscope.
The move follows calls from the opposition for such a probe, with demands for it to include consultation with families affected by the pandemic over the past year.
According to Johns Hopkins university data, the deadly virus has so far infected 4,455,446 people and claimed 127,890 lives in the UK.
“I can confirm today that the government will establish an independent public inquiry on a statutory basis, with full powers under the Inquiries Act of 2005, including the ability to compel the production of all relevant materials, and take oral evidence in public, under oath,” Johnson said.
“We will consult the devolved administrations before finalising scope and detailed arrangements, so that this Inquiry can consider all key aspects of the UK response. This process will place the state’s actions under the microscope,” he said.
Pointing to the scale of the undertaking which would impose “significant burden” on the national health service (NHS), the UK PM said the right moment for the inquiry to begin would be in Spring 2022.
He once again reiterated his message of caution as the UK prepares for its next level of easing the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions from next Monday, to remain vigilant against variants of concern – including that first detected in India.
Johnson said, “The patience and hard work of the British people has combined with the success of the vaccination programme to reduce deaths and hospitalisations to their lowest levels since last July, and from Monday, England will ease lockdown restrictions in line with step 3 of our roadmap. This will amount to the single biggest step of our journey back to normality. But after everything we have endured, we must be vigilant because the threat of this virus remains real and new variants pose a potentially lethal danger, including the one first identified in India which is of increasing concern here in the UK. So caution has to be our watchword.”
The Commons statement came as the NHS announced that it had hit another big milestone in its Covid vaccination programme, with the delivery of 45 million jabs in England.
It marks the next stage of expansion for the Covid-19 vaccination drive, with people aged 38 and 39 now being sent text messages to book their first doses from Thursday.
“With nearly three quarters of people in their 40s having already received their first jab, the NHS is opening up to people aged 38 and 39 from tomorrow. We must not forget that behind the huge numbers of people jabbed, there has been a huge amount of hard work from our staff, aided by incredible volunteers across the country,” said NHS national medical director professor Stephen Powis.
“Our incredible vaccination programme has already saved thousands of lives and has helped to significantly reduce hospital and infection rates, allowing us to begin safely easing restrictions,” added UK health secretary Matt Hancock.
The NHS currently vaccinates using three vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford/AstraZeneca.
People 39 and under without an underlying health condition will be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines in line with updated Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) guidance last week, in response to reports of “extremely rare” cases of blood clots associated with the vaccine, which is being produced in India as Covidshield.
- Lions Club welcomes Soap Box Derby racers
- Sushant Singh Rajput First Death Anniversary: Fans from Australia to mark the date with THIS special gesture for the star [Exclusive] | Bollywood Life
- 12 killed, 138 injured in gas explosion in Central China – Times of India
- This DST-backed wastewater treatment technology to reduce costs for low, medium scale enterprises