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COVID crisis: what kind of inquiry do we need to learn the right lessons?

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Boris Johnson recently announced that a UK inquiry into the government’s handling of COVID-19 will start in 2022 (with a parallel one planned in Scotland), and many more will emerge all over the world. But how should such inquiries be designed and run?

It’s highly likely that the most traditional models of inquiries will be adopted, just because that’s what people at the top are used to, or because they look politically expedient. But the pandemic prompted extraordinary innovation and there is no reason why inquiries should be devoid of any. The pandemic also affected every sector of life and was far more “systemic” than the kinds of issues or events addressed by typical inquiries in the past. That should be reflected in how lessons are learned.

So here are some initial thoughts on what the defaults look like, why they are likely to be inadequate, and what some alternatives might be.

There is a long tradition of inquiries after big public disasters or crises. In the UK, these have included: the Chilcot report into the Iraq War, the Hutton inquiry prompted by the death of Dr David Kelly, the Grenfell Tower inquiry, Lord Leveson’s inquiry on abuses by the media, and the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

There are also many other types of inquiry: parliamentary (one estimate suggests that there have already been around 60 COVID-related inquiries conducted by different select committees); royal commissions, audits that try to get to the truth; as well as internal civil service inquiries; and more localised inquiries, such as the one following the Mid-Staffordshire hospital deaths.

The UK political system is clearly fond of inquiries, and typically the first calls made by the media and opposition parties when something goes wrong is that there should be one. Some of these are governed by UK government legislation passed in........

© The Conversation

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