Jo Goodman writes about her contribution to the Covid-19 Inquiry and the cloth-eared prime ministers
Two months ago, at the start of module 2 of the Covid inquiry, focusing on government decision-making, I gave evidence as the first witness on behalf of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. In my testimony, I described how my family had attempted to protect my Dad in March 2020 as the seriousness of the pandemic became clear to us. Over the course of the module, I argued, the inquiry would hear from ministers past and present, as well as advisers, and I was sure, would hear many argue that with the benefit of hindsight they would have acted differently, but that they weren’t to know how serious the threat from Covid-19 was in early 2020. I urged them to consider whether this was truly the case, when laypeople like myself and other families had, with little access to information, been clear that we needed to take action to protect our loved ones. Across the country prior to the first lockdown, families were keeping apart, effectively shielding loved ones who they knew to be vulnerable. Meanwhile the government approach was characterised by inaction, and my father received his shielding letter nine days after he died.
The very last words of my testimony were to implore the inquiry to consider, were those decisions being made on the right basis to protect life and to protect people like my father and so many tens of thousands like him? I think having seen what we have done over recent weeks we can sadly confirm that this was not the case. As more and more evidence was heard, it became increasingly clear how warnings from scientists were ignored, in favour of what was convenient for our leaders at the time.
In the first wave, Boris Johnson’s clear preference to stick his fingers in his ears and decide that we were somehow going to sail through by developing herd immunity meant that people like my Dad paid the price and frontline workers had to struggle through impossible working conditions. And things didn’t improve in the second wave, by which point one might imagine there would have been some degree of learning. However, a stark picture has been painted of Boris Johnson’s desire above all else to return to normal and open up the economy even if it meant “letting the bodies pile high”. This was clearly driven to some extent by our current prime minister, who was christened “Dr Death” by scientists and had concluded that it was his job to “manage the scientists, not manage the virus”.
The inquiry continues to make for painful listening for bereaved families. However, it is only through picking apart what happened in a forensic way that we believe we can get close to the truth and enable lessons to be learned, so that, we hope, no one else has to go through what we have again.