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UK Covid Inquiry starts hearings in Wales

27 Feb 2024 4 minute read
First Minister Mark Drakeford (right), arrives to give evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. Photo James Manning/PA Wire

Emily Price

The UK Covid Inquiry will begin hearing evidence in Wales today to scrutinise the Welsh Government’s response to the pandemic.

Baroness Hallett, chair of the Inquiry, will start “substantive public hearings” taking evidence from both politicians and civil servants in Cardiff over the next three weeks.

This latest phase of the inquiry will examine and make recommendations about the Welsh Government’s decision-making in response to the pandemic between early January 2020 and May 2022, when the remaining Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in Wales.

Alleged breaches

It will also examine the relationship between the Welsh and UK governments during the pandemic; the imposition of interventions such as lockdowns and face coverings; and public health communication, including any alleged breaches of rules by ministers or officials.

A list of those who will appear at the inquiry is published weekly.

It is widely expected that the first minister Mark Drakeford and Vaughan Gething, the health minister at the height of the pandemic, will appear but they have not been announced.

Day one of the inquiry will hear opening statements from core groups, such as the Welsh government and Public Health Wales.

Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru will speak on Wednesday (February 28).

‘Clown’

The inquiry has previously heard from the UK and Scottish governments, with the former prime minister and former first minister of Scotland, Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon, having appeared.

Much of the evidence heard in those sessions related to WhatsApp messages exchanged between ministers and officials during the pandemic.

This included some expletive-laden texts from Ms Sturgeon, who referred to Mr Johnson as a “clown”.

The inquiry also led to a row in Scotland, after it was revealed many messages had been deleted.

Mr Drakeford has previously said that some of the messages sent by Welsh officials may have been deleted but told the BBC he did not think “there’s anything deleted on my phone”, describing himself as a “sparing” user of electronic communication.

He was forced to correct the record in the Senedd late last year after initially stating that he did not use the messaging platform at all.

Calls for a Wales specific inquiry intensified last year after Mark Drakeford admitted during a UK inquiry evidence session that Wales was “not as prepared as it could have been” for the pandemic.

Vaughan Gething was also criticised for telling the UK probe he hadn’t read a key document produced by a cross-government exercise he took part in.

Lives lost

The Wales Covid-19 Inquiry Special Purpose Committee was set up as part of a deal between Welsh Labour and the Welsh Conservatives to identify any gaps in what the UK Inquiry says about Wales.

However, bereaved families say the Committee isn’t fit for purpose.

Opposition parties in the Senedd have also called for a Wales specific inquiry.

Plaid Cymru spokesperson for Health and Social Care, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “Today marks the UK Covid Inquiry’s first day in Wales for a few weeks. And while it may be notable, make no mistake, this inquiry will not have the time nor capacity to fully scrutinise all decisions made in Wales during the pandemic which affected every single person during that period and saw thousands of lives lost.

“Plaid Cymru has always been clear: decisions made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales. The Labour Welsh Government’s outright refusal to establish a Welsh-specific inquiry is a fundamental dereliction of accountability and undermines devolution. It is inexcusable.

“The people of Wales deserve to see the full picture and decision makers in Wales also deserve to hear how decisions were made, what worked, and what didn’t work. The Welsh Government must step up and establish this at once, but I’m afraid to say that this dodging of scrutiny is one example in a list of so many that show this Labour Welsh Government as avoiding accountability for its decisions.”


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