UK's Johnson urged to bring forward inquiry into pandemic

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FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 file photo, Jo Goodman, co-founder of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, holds a portrait of her late father Stuart as she poses for a photo in London. Jo's father Stuart died of COVID-19, in April 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has on Wednesday, May 12 confirmed that an independent public inquiry into the governments handling of the coronavirus pandemic will start hearing evidence next year. While welcoming the announcement, a leading group representing the bereaved think it should begin sooner. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Wednesday that an independent public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic will start hearing evidence next year. While welcoming the announcement, a leading group representing the bereaved thinks it should begin sooner.

Johnson told lawmakers that the inquiry will have wide-ranging statutory powers and that the government has a responsibility to learn lessons from the pandemic after more than 127,500 died as a result of the coronavirus, Europe's highest death toll.

He said he expects the inquiry to begin its work next spring and that it will have the power to compel the production of all relevant materials and to take oral evidence under oath. The inquiry's chair and terms of reference will be made clear before then, he added.

“Our country, like every country, has found itself in the teeth of the gravest pandemic for a century, imposing heart-breaking sorrow on families across the world,” he said. Amid such tragedy, the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and candidly as possible, and to learn every lesson for the future."

The announcement was generally welcomed by opposition parties though Labour Party leader Keir Starmer questioned why it couldn't be held sooner.

And the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice U.K. group, which has been pressing Johnson to back an inquiry, said his announcement has been “a long time coming" and that it should start sooner than 2022.

“It sounds like common sense when the prime minister says that an inquiry can wait until the pandemic is over, but lives are at stake with health experts and scientists warning of a third wave later this year,” said the group’s co-founder Jo Goodman, who lost her 72-year-old father Stuart last April, just days after he tested positive for the virus.

“A rapid review in summer 2020 could have saved our loved ones who died in the second wave in winter,” she added.