Children must be at the core of the Covid inquiry

Two years ago today the shutters came down on our freedoms as the Government introduced the most draconian set of restrictions on personal liberty in peacetime. In a televised address, a sombre Boris Johnson said: “I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.” Unless exempted by key-worker status, no one was allowed out other than to shop and to exercise.

His hope was that the controls could be lifted within three weeks if the evidence allowed. It never did, not for months. Only now are we finally free of all restrictions, and yet with case numbers still high they never feel that far away. It is often said that the virus was a complete surprise, but since 2005 a national risk assessment had identified a pandemic as the greatest non-malicious threat to the nation. While the expectation was of a flu-like infection, the plan was to be adapted for a Sars-like pathogen.

A lockdown was never envisaged. The strategy stated explicitly that the government “does not plan to close borders, stop mass gatherings or impose controls on public transport during any pandemic”. No cost-benefit analysis was undertaken of shutting down the entire country because it was simply not contemplated, even though up to 315,000 additional deaths were predicted.

Moreover, “although school closures cannot be ruled out, this should not be the primary focus of schools’ planning.” Yet schools were shut for months to the great detriment of pupils. The draft terms of reference for the forthcoming Covid inquiry do not directly mention children. Their experience must be at its core.

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