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Covid inquiry to examine impact on young people, mental health and inequality

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The UK's Covid-19 inquiry will examine the impact of the pandemic on mental health, and on children and young people, it has been confirmed in the updated terms of reference, published today.

The terms of reference, which set out the scope of the inquiry, fall within the already established main topics of the inquiry: to examine the response to the pandemic and its impact in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and produce a factual narrative account of what happened.

The inquiry is also expected to identify the lessons that can be learned, to help inform the UK’s preparations for future pandemics.

Chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett also recommended that the terms of reference be reframed “to put inequalities at its forefront”.

In a written update to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, Hallett said: “The unequal impact of the pandemic was a theme that came through strongly in responses to the consultation.

“I am therefore recommending that the terms of reference be reframed to put possible inequalities at its forefront so that investigation into any unequal impacts of the pandemic runs through the whole inquiry.

“This important recommendation will ensure the inquiry is inclusive in its approach.”

It follows a four-week consultation period in which more than 20,000 people responded, while Baroness Hallett and her team also met bereaved families and representatives from interested groups.

It now falls to Johnson to agree to the terms of reference, although this is widely anticipated to be effectively a rubber-stamping exercise.

The inquiry is due to begin with public hearings in 2023.

Baroness Hallett said in her letter to Johnson that the consultation revealed areas where the original draft terms of reference could be improved.

She said: “I have listened to compelling arguments to focus on children and young people, the mental health and wellbeing of the UK population and collaboration between regional, devolved and national government, and the voluntary and community sector. I am therefore asking you to expand the terms of reference to include these issues.”

The inquiry update comes as the Metropolitan Police confirmed an additional 50 fines have been issued in the latest tranche of penalties handed out as part of Operation Hillman, the investigation into breaches of Covid-19 regulations in Whitehall and Downing Street.

It brings the total number of fines issued for lockdown-breaking parties in Westminster to more than 100, including fines for the Prime Minister, his wife Carrie Johnson, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who were all hit with fixed penalty notices in April over a birthday party held for the PM.

Former Downing Street chief adviser Dominic Cummings accused the PM of “throwing junior staff under the bus”, adding that evidence from staff during the forthcoming Covid-19 inquiry would make Johnson’s life “nightmarish”.

Writing on Twitter, prior to confirmation of the terms of reference, Cummings said: “Am getting lots of texts today like, ‘I can’t wait for the inquiry, I took lots of notes’.”

Latest figures show more than 175,000 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test.

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