The study on the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic will not start taking evidence publicly until next year, its chairman has revealed.
In an open letter, Baroness Hallett said the next month would be spent completing the terms of reference, but public hearings will not begin until 2023 – meaning its results are unlikely to be announced before the next parliamentary elections.
The development will be a blow to bereaved families and others who have fought for a speedy investigation into how Boris Johnson, his ministers and scientific advisers dealt with the biggest public health disaster to hit the country in decades.
The Prime Minister had originally promised that the investigation would begin in the spring of 2022.
MPs in the parliamentary group for all parties on coronavirus have called for Lady Hallett’s results to be published before the next election, heading for 2024 – but given the scale of the investigation, this is unlikely.
That draft terms of reference for the study was published on Thursday and sets out four key areas, including emergency preparedness, public health efforts, efforts in the health and care sector and financial efforts.
Lady Hallett, a former Supreme Court justice, wrote: “The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on everyone in the UK.
“Many people have lost loved ones and suffered serious injury or distress … I want to run an independent, thorough and open investigation.
“The inquiry team has worked hard to lay the groundwork, so we will be ready to begin investigations once the terms of reference are agreed. We will gather evidence throughout the year and I hope to begin public hearings in 2023.”
LibDem MP Layla Moran, chair of the APPG on Covid, welcomed the draft terms of reference, but added: the public consultation is broad and it is crucial that the results of the interim report are delivered before the next general election. “
A senior MEP has expressed concern that the study will not focus on the impact the closure of schools had on a generation of children.
The two-page document refers one to school closures on a long list under the category of public health decisions by central and local government, which are “restrictions on participation in educational establishments”.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the education committee, said the impact on education should play a bigger role in the study.
Sir. Halfon told I: “This draft is extremely worrying. The closure of schools was nothing short of a national disaster for our children, pupils and students in terms of their mental health, level of education, livelihoods and protection.
“A significant part of the report should be about school closures and looking at whether schools should have been classified as national infrastructure along with supermarkets, hospitals and power plants.”
Lady Hallett will produce an “actual report” of events from early 2020 onwards as well as a list of the lessons to be learned from the crisis.
It will be across the UK, in parallel with a separate inquiry set up by the Scottish Government to be chaired by Judge Lady Poole.
The UK study will examine the use of lockdowns, social distancing and face coverage, how the virus was handled in hospitals and nursing homes, the provision of PPE and support for businesses and individuals through the leave scheme.