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Boris Johnson commits to holding inquiry on Britain's coronavirus response

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed on Wednesday to holding an inquiry into the country's handling of the coronavirus crisis but said now was not the time as the battle to combat the pandemic was ongoing.

Opposition Labour, Liberal Democrats press for more specific information

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the weekly question time debate in Parliament in London on Wednesday. (Parliament TV/Reuters TV)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed on Wednesday to holding an inquiry into the country's handling of the coronavirus crisis but said now was not the time as the battle to combat the pandemic was ongoing.

Opposition lawmakers have been pressing for an inquiry after ministers were criticized for being too slow to lock down, to introduce mass testing and to deliver protective equipment.

Johnson has repeatedly said his government took the right decisions at the right time but also admits that lessons will have to be learned after the pandemic, which has left Britain as one of the worst-affected countries.

"We will seek to learn the lessons of this pandemic in the future and certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened," he told Parliament.

His spokesman declined to comment further on the inquiry, but said further details would be set out "in due course."

The Liberal Democrats pressed for a specific timeline.

"The Liberal Democrats have been calling for an independent inquiry into the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic since April, to make sure we learn the lessons before a possible second wave," the party said in a social media post. "@BorisJohnson must now set out the timetable of this inquiry."

Foreboding report on winter season

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Keir Starmer of the Labour Party pressed the government on what it is doing to prepare for the winter after a report on Tuesday indicated COVID-19 could kill up to 120,000 people over a nine-month span in the United Kingdom.

With COVID-19 more likely to spread in winter as people spend more time together in enclosed spaces, a second wave of the pandemic "could be more serious than the one we've just been through," said Stephen Holgate, a professor and co-lead author of the report by Britain's Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS).

The United Kingdom's death toll from confirmed cases of COVID-19 is around 45,000, the highest in Europe. Including suspected cases, more than 55,000 people have died, according to a Reuters tally of official data sources.

The AMS said there is a "high degree of uncertainty" about how the UK's COVID-19 epidemic will evolve, but outlined a "reasonable worst-case scenario" where the reproduction number — or R value — rises to 1.7 from September 2020 onwards.

AMS vice-president Anne Johnson said a bad winter flu season, combined with a large backlog of patients suffering other diseases and chronic conditions, would add to huge pressure on health services — underlining a need to prepare now.

Johnson said he was "aware" of the report, earning disdain from Starmer, who claimed it was clear the prime minister hadn't read the analysis. Johnson, before being hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms in early April, was found to have missed key meetings as the pandemic begin to take effect in Britain.

"The [government was] too slow to lockdown, too slow to get PPE [personal protective equipment] to front line and too slow to get a test and trace strategy," Labour MP Rachel Reeves tweeted. "Learn lessons and save lives.

With files from CBC News

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