On 21st July 2022, the COVID-19 Inquiry was opened. Module 1 will consider the extent to which the risk of a Coronavirus pandemic was properly identified and planned for and whether the UK was ready for that eventuality.
In broad terms, the module will look at the UK’s preparedness for whole-system civil emergencies, including resourcing, the system of risk management and pandemic readiness. It will scrutinise government decision-making relating to planning and seek to identify lessons from earlier incidents and simulations and international comparisons.
A provisional outline of scope has been set out, subject to submissions from Core Participants and Counsel to the Inquiry, proposing that Module 1 will examine:
- The basic characteristics and epidemiology of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
- The Government structures and specialist bodies concerned with risk management and civil emergency planning, including devolved administrations and their structures, local authorities and private sector bodies, historical changes to such structures and bodies as well as the structures in place as at January 2020, inter-organisational processes and cooperation.
- The planning for a pandemic, including forecasting, resources, and the learning from past simulation exercises (including coronavirus, new and emerging high-consequence infectious diseases and influenza pandemic/epidemic exercises), the emergency plans that were in place, biosecurity issues relevant to the risk of pandemics/epidemics, international comparisons and the history of, and learning from, past policy-related investigations.
- Public health services, including the structure of public health bodies, their development over time and readiness and preparation in practice; public health capacity, resources and levels of funding, any impact arising from the UK’s departure from the European Union, and the way in which relevant bodies monitored and communicated about emerging disease.
- Economic planning by relevant Government bodies, including capacity and spending commitments and efficiency and anti-fraud controls, in the context of emergency planning.
- Planning for future pandemics, including (in outline) the state of international preparedness; the risks of new variants of COVID-19, other viruses of concern, and diseases from human contact/viral transmission with animals.
The Inquiry plans to hold the first preliminary hearing in this module in September, with the full public hearings starting in Spring next year.
Those wishing to take a formal role in the Inquiry are invited to apply to become Core Participants for each module, rather than the Inquiry as a whole, and the application process for Module 1 is now open. The deadline for applications will be 16th August, so now is the time for those considering an application to start compiling it, preferably in collaboration with other suitable parties, bearing in mind the Chair’s request for applicants to group themselves together with others with a similar interest, wherever possible. If such an application is successful, Core Participants will have the opportunity to participate formally in Module 1, including by making submissions in respect of the proposed scope as set out above.