The Covid inquiry, initially scheduled to commence evidence on vaccine and drug development this summer, has faced a delay. Witness hearings are now expected to take place at a later date, likely after the upcoming general election. Baroness Hallett, chairing the inquiry, acknowledged the decision might disappoint some. However, she emphasized the necessity for additional time to prepare for a separate investigation into Covid’s impact on the NHS.
“I aim to ensure the effectiveness of our 2024 hearings, recognizing the escalating pressure on organizations to respond to requests and provide information to the inquiry,” she added. “I am committed to preventing the inquiry hearings from extending beyond my original target of summer 2026.”
The inquiry into Covid-19 has been divided into several sections, referred to as modules, each delving into diverse subjects.
The initial phase, commencing evidential proceedings in June 2023, focused on pandemic planning, with anticipated findings and recommendations set for publication this summer.
The second phase, scrutinizing significant political decisions post the onset of Covid, initiated hearings in London in October 2023. Subsequently, it will extend to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland for further evidence collection.
The module investigating vaccines and therapeutics, initially slated for a summer 2024 kickoff, has undergone postponement.
Instead, public hearings are scheduled to recommence in September 2024, examining the pandemic’s impact on the NHS and healthcare, adhering to the original plan.
The examination into vaccines aimed to delve into the intricate details of jab rollout across the UK, encompassing the establishment of the UK vaccines task force and the role of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
It also intended to address concerns regarding vaccine safety, exploring potential links between the jabs and heart issues. Additionally, it sought to assess the need for reforms in the compensation scheme designed to indemnify individuals if health issues arise post-vaccination.
No specific timeline has been provided for the rescheduled hearings, with further details promised “in the next few weeks.”
The decision is speculated to potentially extend this part of the inquiry beyond the next general election, scheduled to occur before 28 January 2025.
Cabinet Secretary Faces Interrogation
The inquiry is still slated to grill the present cabinet secretary, Simon Case, in a dedicated session later this spring.
Mr. Case, recently reinstated as the head of the civil service following a two-month sick leave, couldn’t provide testimony last autumn during the inquiry’s second phase, which delved into political decisions made during the pandemic.
In WhatsApp exchanges with other Downing Street officials, later presented at the inquiry, he frequently criticized ministers.
In another, he expressed being “at the end of my tether” over decisions made by Boris Johnson and conveyed that the former prime minister was “unable to lead.”