Covid inquiry to offer advice on handling ‘future disaster’ better 

Jamie Dawson KC led the opening statement as the inquiry restarted in Edinburgh on Tuesday.

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry will offer the government recommendations on “how any such future disaster might be handled better”, a counsel to the inquiry has said.

The latest phase of the inquiry will examine and make recommendations about the Scottish Government’s core political and administrative decision-making in response to the pandemic between early January 2020 and April 2022, when the remaining Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in Scotland.

It is expected to hear from Scotland’s former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, other current and former Government figures, and a number of senior civil servants.

The inquiry resumed after breaking at the end of 2023 with an opening statement from Jamie Dawson KC, who is lead counsel to the current module of the inquiry.

Speaking to the panel in Edinburgh, Mr Dawson reflected upon areas covered last year by the inquiry, discussing a number of issues faced during the lockdowns.

He said he wants the latest inquiry module to help “understand the decisions which were taken” by the Scottish and UK governments, “why they were taken, in order ultimately to assess whether they were reasonable, evidence-based and in the best interest of the people of Scotland”.

He said where these decisions “appear not to have been” made reasonably, he will seek to “explore what might have been done better to achieve these aims.”

He added: “We do so as we have been charged under our terms of reference, and the scope of our module, in order that the people of Scotland can ultimately gain an understanding of why the pandemic was managed in Scotland as it was, but also to try to form the basis of possible recommendations to government as to how any such future disaster might be handled better.

“Those who suffered infection, hardship and bereavement in the pandemic in Scotland deserve no less.

“I’m delivering this opening statement on behalf of the inquiry team to provide you with a summary of relevant evidence you will hear over the next few weeks.”

During the latest phase of the inquiry, it will hear from a number of witnesses including from Scottish Covid Bereaved – an advocacy group of people who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

The group is represented by solicitor Aamer Anwar.

In a statement read out before the inquiry hearing took place on Tuesday, Mr Anwar spoke of lost and allegedly deleted WhatsApp messages from politicians during lockdown, stating members of Scottish Covid Bereaved “deserve better”, adding: “They want politicians to answer questions put to them directly, putting politics and political careers aside – quite frankly the work of this inquiry is more important.”

Responding to Mr Anwar’s comments outside the inquiry, a spokesperson for the UK Government said: “Throughout the pandemic the Government acted to save lives and livelihoods, prevent the NHS being overwhelmed and deliver a world-leading vaccine rollout which protected the nation.

“We have always said there are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic and we are committed to learning from the Covid inquiry’s findings which will play a key role in informing the Government’s planning and preparations for the future.”

During Tuesday’s proceedings Sam Jacobs, a lawyer representing the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), made reference to a paper detailing how men working as waiters, kitchen assistants, and HGV and taxi drivers in Scotland had “exceptionally high mortality rates” during the pandemic.

He said the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR) paper also showed women working in industrial cleaning or as packers also had higher mortality rates.

Mr Jacobs said higher mortality rates were also observed among women working as process plant operators, couriers and shelf fillers.

“The differences in mortality rates between sectors reflects both occupational risk and the social class gradient in health outcomes,” he said.

“It all points to one of the profound consequences of the pandemic – that those who were generally less well off, with greater disadvantage and vulnerability, paid the greater price.

“It was true of Scotland as it was across the UK. It was the price paid by people who kept parcels being delivered to our doors, who transported key workers to work, who processed our food, who stacked our shelves, who cared for our sick and elderly, and many others.”

The inquiry, before chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett, continues.

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