Brexit is partly to be blamed for UK's feeble pandemic preparation, the COVID inquiry was told on its opening day.
The UK’s COVID inquiry has heard that Brexit “weakened” the country's ability to respond well to the pandemic.
Counsel for the COVID inquiry Hugo Keith KC said Brexit-related planning and administrative processes hindered the country’s preparedness to tackle the pandemic, on the opening day of the hearings.
The independent inquiry chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett started its first module on Tuesday and will involve six weeks of public hearings until 20 July.
“The Pandemic hit the UK just as it was leaving the EU,” Keith said. “It is clear that such planning, from 2018 onwards, crowded out and prevented some or perhaps a majority of the improvements that central government itself understood were required to be made to resilience planning and preparedness.”
Putting the government’s Operation Yellowhammer into scrutiny, he said the “enormous amount” of work weakened the capacity to devise a pandemic response.
The proposed operation was put into place in case of a unilateral exit from the EU if a withdrawal agreement was not reached.
The resource-intensive planning was done to address the consequences of a possible no-deal exit, the UK government had devised a plan to aid food and medical supplies, travel and transport, and business.
”Did the attention therefore paid to the risks of a no-deal exit drain the resources and capacity that should have been continuing the fight against the next pandemic?” Keith questioned.
The evidence so far puts the government’s focus on Brexit rather than preparing the UK for civil emergency as the main factor behind one of the highest death tolls in the world, Keith claimed.
The inquiry is yet to hear evidence from members of the public, 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.
Public hearings will be concluded by 2026, putting every aspect of the pandemic under the microscope.