What Just Happened? The need for a public inquiry into COVID in Scotland

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact across the world. Not only in terms of deaths, infections, hospitalisations, and ongoing health problems caused by COVID-19, but by shutting down large parts of the economy, schools, vital services that so many people depend on, and forcing people to stay at home, separating families, friends and support networks on and off for a year now; it has created a human rights crisis.

It is legitimate for the State to take on extraordinary powers at times of crisis such as a pandemic or war. However, that doesn’t remove all human rights protections and it doesn’t cancel accountability.

The UK has one of the highest death rates from COVID-19 in Europe. Questions have been raised about the return of patients from hospitals to care homes; about the availability of PPE for essential workers; the removal of social care support leaving even more people to become full-time, unpaid carers; the track and trace app and system; the treatment of students in university accommodation; confusing messaging and constant rushed changes to regulations; prisoners in effect being kept in solitary confinement; this list goes on and all of these issues need to be examined, the truth established, action taken and lessons learned.

The UK and Scottish Governments made decisions every day that dramatically affected everyone’s lives and it is important that those decisions are examined. Not only do Ministers and other decision-makers need to be accountable for the unprecedented powers they exercised, but we also need to learn the lessons for the future.

Some will argue that “now is not the time” and we must always be conscious of the time, money and resource that needs to be put into Inquiries of this kind. But we need to find out where things went wrong in order to rectify them as soon as possible. A year on, we are still living in lockdown and even with the vaccine, its likely that we will be living with restrictions for a long time. Even if COVID-19 is eradicated, there will be other crises in the future and there is much we can learn.

This is why Amnesty has joined with organisations from across civil society to ask the First Minister when we are going to get the Public Inquiry she has already agreed to. We have already joined with over 70 organisations to call for a Public Inquiry at Westminster and in Northern Ireland, we have joined with others to call for a public inquiry into care homes.

Organisations representing health and social care, frontline workers, disabled people, people living in poverty, students, children and young people, women’s rights, migrant rights, and many more have all seen first-hand the impact that this pandemic has had and the urgent need to address these problems as we build back better.

We look forward to a response from the First Minister to the letter downloadable below. In the meantime, if you would like your organisation to add its name to the letter, please email: scotland@amnesty.org.uk


Joint letter to First Minister on COVID Inquiry
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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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