An independent public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic will be held in spring 2022, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told MPs.
Johnson said the government was “fully committed to learning the lessons at every stage of this crisis”.
The inquiry will place “the state’s actions under the microscope”, he added, and take evidence under oath.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer questioned why the inquiry could not start earlier, such as later in 2021.
He also urged the government to consult the affected families at the earliest moment.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group has been lobbying for a meeting with Mr Johnson since last summer, and for the launch of an urgent independent investigation into the pandemic.
The group has been calling for the inquiry to begin this summer, saying that learning lessons from the pandemic “is critical to saving lives now and in the future”.
During a statement in the Commons, the prime minister said: “Amid such tragedy the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible, and to learn every lesson for the future – which is why I’ve always said when the time is right there should be a full and independent inquiry.
“So, I can confirm today that the government will establish an independent public inquiry on a statutory basis, with full powers under the Inquiries Act 2005.”
The devolved administrations will be consulted before the scope of the inquiry is outlined, he added.
On the threat of new coronavirus variants, Johnson said: “Should these prove highly transmissible and elude the protection of our vaccines, they would have the potential to cause even greater suffering than we endured in January.
“There is in any case a high likelihood of a surge this winter when the weather assists the transmission of all respiratory diseases and when the pressure on our NHS is most acute.”
He added: “So I expect that the right moment for the inquiry to begin is at the end of this period in the spring of next year, spring 2022.”
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for clarification on whether the inquiry will be formally opening in spring or whether that will be when work begins to establish the inquiry.
In response, Johnson said the preparatory work to establish the terms of reference and the inquiry chairman “will happen before the spring of next year”, adding: “We will be getting it under way, we will be taking some key decisions.”
He added: “I think the House will agree that it would not be right to devote the time of people who are looking after us, who are saving lives, to an inquiry before we can be absolutely, much more certain than we are now that the pandemic is behind us.”