Coronavirus news: Next winter could be ‘even worse’ if variants elude vaccines, Boris Johnson warns

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<p></p> (PA)

Next winter could see even “greater suffering” than that endured by the public this year if Covid-19 variants prove resistant to vaccines, Boris Johnson warned on Wednesday.

The prime minister said there was a “high likelihood” of a surge in Covid-19 cases this winter, as he announced plans to launch a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic in Spring 2022.

Addressing the House of Commons, he argued that next spring was the most appropriate time for the launch due to the threat of a winter surge, but campaigners said it would be “simply too late”.

Jo Goodman, co-founder of a group for families bereaved by Covid-19, said it was a “huge relief” to hear the prime minister commit to a statutory inquiry – but that the probe cannot wait because lives are at stake and health experts are warning of a third wave later this year.

Labour leader Keir Starmer welcomed the inquiry announcement, as well as Mr Johnson’s promise to set up a UK Commission for the bereaved, health workers and others who made sacrifices during the pandemic. But he queried the prime minister’s timing, saying that the inquiry should begin “as soon as possible”.

Meanwhile, an independent panel of experts who reviewed the World Health Organisation’s response to the coronavirus crisis has concluded it could have been prevented from “escalating into the devastating pandemic it became”.

In a report, the panel said the combination of poor strategic choices, unwillingness to tackle inequalities and lack of an urgent, co-ordinated, worldwide response created a “toxic cocktail which allowed the pandemic to turn into a catastrophic human crisis”.