British MPs’ Report on Covid Deaths: Of all parliamentary inquiries conducted in Britain, conclusion of the MPs panel that looked at the government response to the Covid-19 pandemic must rate as among the most obvious: that the government handled it disastrously but did well later on the vaccination front.
The first conclusion was obvious to just about everyone except to the government, certainly to former health secretary Matt Hancock whose career was later cut short by a mistimed kiss with a lady, not his wife, caught on camera.
That the government was getting it wrong was almost certainly obvious also to Prime Minister Boris Johnson who called Hancock “hopeless” in text messages, which were no doubt leaked to him from serial blunders. The leaks sought to suggest that the hopelessness of the handling was coming from Hancock, and that the PM was in some way watching that happen along with everyone else.
The MP inquiry stops short of fixing responsibility, making the government answerable. The responsibility is as serious as decisions taken and not taken that led to the loss of thousands of lives, particularly among the elderly.
The compulsion to bear responsibility has also been underlined in the MPs’ report. It said thousands of lives were lost by the delaying the first lockdown in March 2020. The pandemic has claimed more than 150,000 lives in Britain.
The MPs who produced the report were from all parties serving on the health and social care committee and the science and technology committee of Parliament.
Minority Deaths: The MPs’ report confirms the disproportionately high number of deaths among Indians and other minority groups during the pandemic. Among the very high number of deaths across the country, the toll among minorities was “unacceptably high”, the report says. It suggests inherited biological factors and housing and working conditions as a reason.
Overcrowding among immigrant families is well known, though the incidence is lower among Indians than among other groups. Members of the minorities also have typically greater exposure to working in crowded conditions and in jobs that expose them to more than average interaction with a large number of people at fuel stations, shops and hospitals.
Public Inquiry: PM Boris Johnson apologised in May for his government failings that led to so many deaths. Following the MP report, Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay too apologised. But there the matter will not be allowed to rest. A full public inquiry is due next year. That is when the opposition Labour Party is expected to press firmly for accountability and answerability.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called the MPs’ report a “damning indictment” of the government.
The public inquiry is due to begin only in spring next year despite demands that it should be launched earlier. PM Johnson has said the delay is intended to ease pressure on the National Health Service through an expected tough winter handling of both Covid-19 and flu. The terms of reference for the inquiry will only be announced next year. A public inquiry in Scotland is due later this year.
Failing to give evidence can lead to a year in prison.
The inquiry once it gets going can take years. An inquiry into the Iraq war took seven years, others have taken longer. In any case the public inquiry is unlikely to produce its findings before the next parliamentary election due May 2, 2024.
That makes the full inquiry to follow straight out of the ‘Yes Minister’ series where to deflect criticism was to order an inquiry. And make sure that it is a comprehensive one that would necessarily take several years to complete.
Meanwhile, the government has earned to its credit, as the MPs noted, the development of a vaccine and a racy vaccination programme to give it more than acceptable public standing.