The COVID inquiry, which has been highly anticipated, will conduct its first public hearing today. The hearing will include an opening statement from Baroness Hallett, the chair of the inquiry, and a film containing testimonies from bereaved families that has been described as “difficult to watch.” Baroness Hallett, a retired judge, has pledged to make the 226,000 pandemic victims the focal point of the investigation into the government’s response. The opening module, which examines the country’s resilience and preparedness, will feature only one bereaved family member giving evidence.
Although Baroness Hallett has stated that more bereaved families will be heard later in the inquiry, some families have criticized her for not allocating enough time to hear their experiences. A demonstration is planned outside the London hearing to express their concerns. Leshie Chandrapala, who believes that her father, Ranjith Chandrapala, would still be alive if he had been better protected as a key worker during the pandemic’s peak, will be the only bereaved family member giving evidence during the opening module.
Mr. Chandrapala, a bus driver from northwest London, died in May 2020. Leshie Chandrapala said that the inquiry is a “monumental day” for her family and that they have been fighting for it since the pandemic began. She added that they “wanted to learn lessons very early on, but the government was reluctant.”
Leshie Chandrapala also expressed her desire to learn about the measures in place to keep key workers safe during the pandemic. She emphasized that her father was a key worker, and she wants to know how the Department for Transport, TFL, and bus operators worked together to ensure bus drivers’ safety. She also highlighted the high death toll among transport workers, including bus drivers, during the pandemic and questioned the lack of preparedness that may have contributed to the disproportionate number of deaths in this sector.
The inquiry has published a list of witnesses who will testify this week. Sir Michael Marmot, the author of a report on key worker deaths, which found that London bus drivers aged 20 to 65 were 3.5 times more likely to die from COVID between March and May 2020 than men in other occupations across England and Wales, is among them.
During Tuesday’s session, Professor Jimmy Whitworth, an infectious diseases expert from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Dr. Charlotte Hammer, an epidemiologist from Cambridge University, will testify. The first module will last for six weeks and conclude on July 20.
The COVID inquiry’s first public hearing marks a significant milestone in the quest for accountability for the government’s pandemic response. The testimonies from bereaved families and key experts’ perspectives will be crucial in understanding the impact of the government’s decisions on the pandemic’s outcome. The inquiry’s findings will be instrumental in preventing future pandemics from causing such a high death toll.