UK COVID inquiry begins: Here's everything you need to know

A general view of the entrance to the building where the Covid-19 inquiry preliminary hearing for Module 2, in London, Tuesday June 6, 2023.
A general view of the entrance to the building where the Covid-19 inquiry preliminary hearing for Module 2, in London, Tuesday June 6, 2023. Copyright Aberto Pezzali/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reservedAP
By Joshua Askew
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Nearly 228,000 people died due to the coronavirus in the UK - one of the worst per capita mortality rates in Europe. The inquiry could last until 2026 and cost €100 million.

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The UK is launching its long-anticipated inquiry into the COVID pandemic on Tuesday, amid ongoing controversy. 

The independent public inquiry, chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, will put every aspect of the pandemic under the microscope. 

Public hearings will be concluded by 2026, though the process has no formal deadline. 

Just under 228,000 people have died in the UK with COVID mentioned on their death certificate as of May, according to government figures

The UK - along with Sweden - has one of the worst per capita COVID mortality rates in Europe, researchers have found. Plus the country had one of the world's highest total number of deaths from the virus. 

Investigators aim to examine the UK's response to the coronavirus pandemic, its impact and learn lessons for the future. They will be able to call witnesses to give evidence under oath, ultimately producing a report. 

The government's handling of the pandemic was marred by successive controversies. 

Some claim it had a blasé attitude during the early stages in 2020 and did not lockdown soon enough, leading to unnecessary deaths.

However, officials were praised for rolling out the vaccine much quicker than in other European countries. 

Despite social distancing recommendations, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson shook hands with hospital patients in March 2020, only to be admitted to intensive care himself with COVID shortly afterward. 

He was later fiercely criticised after it was revealed drunken parties had been held at Downing Street during the lockdowns, while people were forbidden from visiting their dying loved ones in hospital. 

This is something the inquiry, launched by Johnson in 2021 will investigate, as well as decision-making at central and local government.  

Westminster is currently challenging a request by investigators to see messages sent between the former PM and his staff. 

How is the inquiry organised?

The inquiry is split into six modules, examining the country's preparedness all the way through to sector-specific impact. 

Module one starting on Tuesday involves six weeks of public hearings running until 20 July. 

The public has been invited to share their experiences of the pandemic, which investigators say will help them better understand the effects of the virus and the response of authorities.

These answers will be put into themed reports that will serve as evidence. 

More than 22 million cases of COVID have been recorded by the government up to May, with the number still growing. 

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Baroness Hallett previously worked on a range of high-profile inquests, acting as coroner for the 56 people who died in the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London.

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