Experience of bereaved families ‘absolutely key’ to effective Covid-19 inquiry

The involvement of bereaved families will be “absolutely key” to the success of the independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic, a campaigner has said.

Boris Johnson revealed on Wednesday that the inquiry would commence in spring next year and would put “the state’s actions under a microscope”.

Rivika Gottlieb, whose father Michael died in the first wave of the pandemic, has been among those calling for an inquiry since last year.

Speaking in front of the National Coronavirus Memorial in London, Ms Gottlieb told the PA news agency: “We’ve been campaigning since last May for a review.

“We wanted a rapid review last summer because we wanted lessons learned immediately ahead of a winter spike – that did not happen.

“I firmly believe that tens of thousands of lives could have been saved had those lessons been learned last summer. The idea of waiting yet another year for a public inquiry to even begin terrifies me, to be honest.”

Ms Gottleib said the evidence of families who have lost loved ones would be vital to the inquiry because so many had reported “different but similar experiences”.

“I think the role of bereaved families is absolutely key,” she said.

“I think our experiences are essential in terms of the lessons that need to be learned, and every bereaved family member that I have spoken to and throughout our campaign, we have all had different but similar experiences.

“The same themes keep coming up again and again and these voices need to be heard, otherwise we won’t know what really went wrong and why it went wrong.”

Mert Dogus, 18, of Hackney in north-east London, lost his father in March last year.

Cab driver Haci Ali Dogus, 49, had no underlying health conditions, but died on March 25 after contracting the virus, leaving behind his wife and two sons.

His son said he is hoping the inquiry will explain why the Government took so long to impose restrictions when it saw the situation escalating out of control in other parts of the world.

“I feel like they should have handled things earlier as soon as they knew Covid was spreading quite fast,” he said.

“I don’t think the UK really took it seriously until it started spreading very rapidly here, that’s when the Government took action.

“I want to know why they didn’t take action beforehand. Why didn’t they cut off air travel to the UK from China?”

The A-level student said his father was aware of the risks, but was the only one working in the household and at the time of his death there was no Government support available.

Mert Dogus added: “It is good that we are having these questions being asked.

“As long as the Government are open with everything, we are going to get the answers we deserve.”

Laura Hunter, 30, of Auchterarder in Perthshire, was less hopeful that the inquiry would give her family answers.

Her father, 52-year-old refuse worker Scott Hunter, died in January.

Ms Hunter and her family believe the local council failed in its duty to properly protect key workers from the pandemic, and the family ended up sourcing their own PPE for their father.

She believes the Government got its priorities wrong in vaccinating people in care homes first, adding that even now local council workers have not been prioritised for a vaccine.

“I think, personally, that people in care homes shouldn’t have been vaccinated first because they’re not going anywhere,” she said.

“They’ve got staff that are going in and out, if they’re vaccinated then there’s less chance of it spreading to them, but all the key workers should have been vaccinated first.”

Asked if she thought the inquiry would provide answers, she replied: “I doubt it.”

Arlene Daantos’ husband, 52-year-old Dax Daantos, died in January.

Ms Daantos is a neonatal nurse at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, while her husband was an implant co-ordinator for the same trust working in orthopaedics.

She told PA she had a lot of questions about the vaccine rollout, and also her family’s lack of access to Mr Daantos in the last days of his life.

“There’s a lot of questions that I want answers to,” she said.

“Throughout the first few days… hospital staff were telling me my husband is in a good condition and very stable, and all of a sudden he deteriorated.

“It’s really hard because you think your husband is going to hospital and it’s safe and you don’t know that this will be their last day.”

Ms Daantos said all healthcare workers should have been a priority in the vaccine rollout.

“I think the vaccination should have been earlier and the priorities should have been healthcare, because at that time we are saving lives and at the same time we are not saving our (NHS) family,” she said.

The Daantos, Hunter and Dogus families all have fundraisers in memory of their loved ones on GoFundMe.com.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Covid Families for Justice.