UK’s pandemic inquiry opens as victims’ relatives lash out

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London: An inquiry probing the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic kicked off Tuesday with the investigation mired in controversy even before the first witness is called.
The inquiry chair, retired senior judge Heather Hallett, has called for ex-prime minister Boris Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks to be handed over, prompting a legal challenge from the government of his successor Rishi Sunak.
Sunak, who was finance minister during the pandemic, has denied trying to block the material, while Johnson is said to be in favour of it being shared.
Relatives of Covid-19 victims have also taken aim at the investigation saying it will be a “farce” if bereaved families are not able to testify.
Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group lined up outside the inquiry in central London holding pictures of their loved ones.
Launching proceedings, Hallett pledged that those who suffered during the pandemic would “always be at the heart of the inquiry”.
She paid tribute to the relatives’ “dignified vigil”, adding that she hoped they would “understand when they see the results of the work we are doing that I am listening to them”.
“Their loss will be recognised,” added Hallett, who previously oversaw the coroner’s inquests into the 52 people killed in the July 7, 2005 London bombings.
The UK suffered one of the worst Covid-19 death tolls in Europe with more than 128,500 fatalities recorded by mid-July 2021.
The current toll of deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate stands at just over 227,000, according to the latest government figures.
The first phase of the inquiry is due to focus on the UK’s resilience and preparedness in the face of the global health emergency.
Established by Johnson in 2021, it has been split up into six sections.
The first witnesses to give evidence in person to the inquiry will be leading epidemiologists Jimmy Whitworth and Charlotte Hammer on Wednesday.

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