Walking with the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group
Walking with the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group

This week, on the first anniversary of the National Covid Memorial Wall, I joined members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group as they delivered their petition of over 106,000 to Downing Street calling for the Wall to be made permanent.

Walking along the Wall, it is impossible not to be overcome with emotion and grief at what feels like miles of hearts, each representing a person who is loved and missed. The Wall doesn’t only serve as a poignant place for the bereaved; it also serves as a reminder that we let a lot of people down, and we are letting them down still.

Mere weeks ago, the Cabinet Office was still repeating the Prime Minister’s line that the Covid Inquiry would start in the Spring. Then, as the first daffodils came out in my garden, I read the news that public hearings would now not begin until 2023.

It would be easy to speculate why the Government has chosen to delay the inquiry. I think the answer lies in a fear of accountability and a misunderstanding of precisely what people want from the process.

No one is suggesting that the circumstances under which the Government had to operate were not exceptional. Indeed, not since the Spanish flu has a virus taken such a rapid and devastating toll on our country. But mistakes were made, and we need to learn from them sooner rather than later.

In 2004, Labour invested in pandemic planning through the Civil Contingencies Act. Operation Winter Willow in 2007, which involved 5,000 people from all walks of life simulating a pandemic, made clear the need for stockpiling PPE and providing PPE training, and the Government under Prime Minister Gordon Brown made heavy investments into pandemic preparedness. Under subsequent Conservative Governments, the PPE training stopped, stocks were left to run down, and much of it went out of date. They mothballed the UK pandemic plan, and it left us unprepared.

When backed into a corner, Boris Johnson usually turns to accusations of party political point-scoring, but if his Government obfuscate and dismiss the inquiry’s findings, ‘points’ should be scored against them by parties ready to come in and invest in our future pandemic preparedness.

There is no national public memorial to the estimated 228,000 people in the UK who died from the Spanish flu. Maybe if lasting monuments to those who died from Spanish flu were ever-present in our lives, we wouldn’t have been so ill-prepared for its successor all these years later.

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