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Families describe impact of Covid-19 pandemic in Wales

27 Feb 2024 4 minute read
Mark Drakeford picture by Ben Birchall / PA Wire.

The Covid-19 inquiry investigating Wales’ response to the pandemic opened today, with testimonies from bereaved families detailing their experience of the virus.

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has resumed, with hearings to be carried out in Cardiff over the next three weeks.

Bereaved families and those personally affected by the virus detailed their experiences of the virus in an “impact film” shown to the inquiry.

One widow described visiting her husband in hospital to take him clean clothes and finding a “broken man”.

She said his mobile phone had been left on top of a wardrobe out of his reach, meaning he could not contact anyone, and days would go by without her speaking to him.

“He died there all on his own,” she said.

Others spoke of feeling guilty at being unable to support loved ones when they were diagnosed with terminal cancer, and having taken family members to hospital for other treatment only for them to catch Covid.

The inquiry also heard from people with disabilities and their struggles with messaging and treatment during the pandemic.

Members of a Welsh bereaved family group will appear before the inquiry on Wednesday.

It is now almost four years since the first lockdown was put in place in March 2020, with schools and businesses shut down to prevent the spread of the virus.

Having questioned UK ministers and officials, Baroness Heather Hallett, who chairs the inquiry, has turned her attention to Wales and the impact on people there.

Baroness Hallet opened the inquiry by acknowledging that there had been calls for an independent Welsh inquiry into the pandemic.

She said it was not a decision for her to make but promised to look into the issues in the country “fully and fairly”.

Tom Poole KC, the leading counsel for this section of the inquiry, told the hearing that some 12,300 people have died due to the virus in Wales, and there had been more than 43,000 Covid-related admissions to hospital.

“That is by any measure a shocking figure and terrible loss of life,” he said.

Vaughan Gething during a Welsh Government Covid briefing

He also confirmed that the first minister Mark Drakeford, former health minister Vaughan Gething and Welsh government scientific advisers will appear before the inquiry.

It will also hear from Dr Frank Atherton, the chief medical officer, Dr Robert Orford, the chief scientific adviser for health and Andrew Goodall, chief executive of the NHS in Wales.

Mr Poole set out a timeline of events, from when the Welsh government first heard about the virus through key events, including the various lockdowns.

He also highlighted events with confusing messaging from the Welsh government.

This included when the Welsh Labour Government was set to allow a rugby Six Nations match to go ahead in Cardiff despite the party having cancelled its own conference.

The inquiry heard that the former deputy transport minister Lee Waters said this was an “odd signal to send” in a WhatsApp message.

Mr Poole also set out a series of questions that must be answered by the hearings.

This includes whether divergence in rules between the Welsh and UK Governments was necessary, whether more could have been done earlier and whether messaging was clear.

Mr Poole stressed this part of the inquiry would not focus on the impact of the pandemic, which will come at a later date, but said it has a “part to play” in these hearings.

He also indicated some phone messages from ministers or officials have been deleted and the inquiry will want to know why this has happened.

The inquiry continues.

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