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GOVERNMENT incompetence helped cause the deaths of 150,000 people with coronavirus, the People’s Covid Inquiry charged yesterday as it delivered its damning interim report.
The probe, organised by Keep Our NHS Public (KONP), found Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “inconsistent, ill-prepared, and miscommunicated” attempts to deal with the crisis resulted in unnecessary fatalities.
Chaired by Michael Mansfield QC and set up in the absence of a formal public inquiry, the investigation heard from dozens of health professionals and the bereaved at nine hearings between February and last month.
Ahead of its final report this autumn, the inquiry concluded that the government was unfit for purpose, as it joined calls from unions including Unite, Unison and GMB for an independent statutory inquiry to start immediately.
“Our prime finding … is that from the start it has been and continues to be a government unfit for the purpose of safeguarding the health of the nation,” the preliminary report said.
The damning verdict came as today’s The Lancet publishes a letter from more than 100 scientists and doctors from around the world accusing ministers of conducting a “dangerous and unethical experiment” by abandoning nearly all lockdown restrictions on “freedom day,” July 19.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has admitted Britain could soon see 100,000 new infections per day as a result of the move, which comes as millions wait to be vaccinated.
The signatories, including independent Sage adviser Sir David King and the British Medical Association’s Dr Chaand Nagpaul, warn the government’s strategy is “unethical and illogical” and will leave the population at the mercy of “long Covid” postviral health problems.
“This strategy risks creating a generation left with chronic health problems and disability, the personal and economic impacts of which might be felt for decades to come,” the letter says.
At yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions session, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Mr Johnson of “ignoring the next big problem,” as BBC analysis suggests more than 4.5 million people will need to self-isolate this summer as cases soar.
“It won’t feel like ‘freedom day’ to those who have to isolate, when they’re having to cancel their holidays, when they can’t go to the pub or even to their kids’ sports day,” Sir Keir said.
The KOPN inquiry found the PM was slow to respond when the pandemic hit Britain in March 2020 and criticised him for following the “ideological fixation” of choosing private contracts over public services throughout the crisis.
A decade of austerity had “negatively impacted population health resilience” before the crisis and the disproportionate impact on disabled people, ethnic minorities and women reflected endemic inequality in Britain, the probe found.
It demanded ministers be honest, accept responsibility, apologise and provide compensation where necessary.
It recommended that such accountability could even entail prosecution, especially where there have been clear violations of fundamental human rights or where “grossly negligent” acts have occurred.
KONP co-chair Dr Tony O’Sullivan warned the Health & Care Bill, which was presented to Parliament on Tuesday, would further fragment the NHS by legalising the “unregulated contracting behaviour” permitted under emergency pandemic legislation.
“[As cases soar] there are lessons to be learnt, and without doubt, lives that can and must be saved,” he said.
“And what of long Covid, and the impact on children, those that are not vaccinated, those at greatest risk, the risk of vaccine escape?
“The press reports that Boris Johnson has overruled his scientific advisers to go ahead with ‘freedom day.’ [On Tuesday], mid-pandemic, the government announced a major upheaval of the NHS.
“Are these the right priorities, or are there more important lessons to learn right now?”
Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt
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