Three years and three months after a Berkshire woman in her 70s became Britain’s first confirmed Covid death, the official inquiry begins today into how the country responded to the pandemic, why more than 227,000 people died, and whether, as Baroness Heather Hallett (presiding) puts it, “things could have been done better”. The inquiry will have to examine in detail the thinking behind the timing of lockdowns; the provision and non-provision of protective equipment; the wisdom or unwisdom of Rishi Sunak’s “eat out to help out” scheme, which seemed with very little hindsight to have prioritised the health of restaurants over that of people; the failure to establish a mass testing scheme before the start of the 2020-21 school year; and Matt Hancock’s fateful decision to discharge vulnerable elderly hospital patients to care homes without testing, to free up beds. The inquiry will take at least three years but Baroness Hallet has promised interim updates. It’s hard to overstate a) how vital it is that she prevents ex-ministers re-writing history to save what remains of their reputations, or b) how hard they will try.
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