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Covid-19 inquiry: Bereaved were ‘demoralised to see mistakes being repeated’

People who lost relatives early on became concerned about decisions bring taken as the pandemic progressed.

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People bereaved early in the pandemic felt demoralised and depressed to see the Government repeat mistakes and make decisions which seemed to contradict efforts to protect life, a woman who lost her father has said.

Joanna Goodman co-founded the Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice (CBFFJ) group following the death of her father Stuart in April 2020.

She said she and her family had done “everything in our power to protect him” but accused the Government of failing to “keep their end of the bargain” in terms of protective or preventative measures.

Ms Goodman, who was giving evidence during the UK Covid-19 Inquiry’s second module on UK decision-making and political governance, became tearful as she recalled her mother’s phone call to tell her her father had tested positive for Covid in March.

Joanna Goodman co-founded the Covid Bereaved Families For Justice group after the death of her father Stuart in the pandemic (Family Handout/PA)
Joanna Goodman co-founded the Covid Bereaved Families For Justice group after the death of her father Stuart in the pandemic (Family Handout/PA)

She said she “howled”, adding: “That was the worst moment because it felt as though we had done everything in our power to protect him.

“And yeah, as I’ll go on to discuss, it felt that the fact that the Government had failed to keep their end of the bargain in that regard meant that he had still been exposed to it.”

She said the person that “I most wanted to protect in the world had Covid and we knew at that point that there was no hope of him surviving”.

Her father, who already had other health issues, had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma on March 18, and his family believes he contracted Covid when he visited the Norfolk and Norwich hospital for that appointment.

He began his cancer treatment at the same hospital on the first day of lockdown.

A few days later he began to show Covid symptoms, was taken to hospital on March 29 and his family were told the next day that he had Covid.

He died aged 72 on April 2.

Ms Goodman said she felt she and her family had made efforts to isolate themselves and shield him as best they could.

After his death, she said she felt moved to act, and came into contact with other bereaved people who felt the same way, which is how the CBFFJ was formed.

The group campaigned heavily for an inquiry into the pandemic to be held.

Referring to summer 2020, she said: “I think over that summer, we sought to influence the trajectory of the pandemic as much as we could.”

She said group members “were very concerned” about decisions being taken as the pandemic progressed, referencing the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme which encouraged people to go back to restaurants by offering discounts on meals.

She told Wednesday’s hearing: “I think what then proceeded to happen was, those of us who were bereaved in the first wave, were very concerned about decisions like Eat Out to Help Out, decisions which seemed to be antithetical to efforts to protect life.

“And so it felt very strongly to us that the Government were repeating the same mistakes. And I think what was very traumatic, particularly over the kind of second and third waves for those of us who were bereaved early on, was that it felt like those missed opportunities had happened.”

She said some people joined the CBFFJ group soon after loved ones had died or “even the same day” and would recount similar experiences to what had happened to herself or others earlier on in the pandemic, indicating things had not changed or lessons had not been learned.

She said: “It was very demoralising and very depressing. I think all of us were very, very low at this moment.”

In a plea to the inquiry chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett at the end of her evidence, Ms Goodman warned that there might be arguments by some trying to defend or explain decision-making that they now have “the benefit of hindsight”.

But she said her family and others had made decisions to try and protect themselves and others in the moment.

She told the hearing: “Hopefully, I’ve made clear that my family and many other families up and down the country were making decisions at that time and throughout the pandemic.”

Baroness Hallett repeated her pledge that bereaved families will “always be at the heart of everything we do”.

She told Ms Goodman: “Please rest assured that every time I hear a witness I am thinking about the impact on people of decisions that were made.

“And also will be considering whether the impact on people was taken into account.”

Meanwhile, Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees, a founder of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru, called for cultural change to ensure older people are respected in the event of a future pandemic.

She told the inquiry there is no doubt older people “are ignored, they’re deemed less important, their lives less valuable”.

A reluctance on the part of some older people to “call out or stand their ground or complain” can exacerbate the situation, she said.

“And I think that’s maybe why I’m here and our members are here is to give them the voice.

“They were the silent generation. They are most certainly silent now, but we thank the inquiry for giving them that voice now and the platform to discuss some of these things that could impact us culturally, socially for the future.”

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