People in Scotland have been sharing their stories of how the pandemic has affected their lives – as the UK COVID inquiry resumed in Edinburgh.
It is the first time the hearings, chaired by former judge Baroness Hallett, have taken place outside of London since the inquiry began in 2022 – and will focus on decision-making in Scotland.
A total of 12 sessions will take place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) between 16 January and 1 February.
Key witnesses are expected to include former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, ex-health minister Jeane Freeman, and national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch.
The hearing on Tuesday began with a 20-minute impact video, featuring many Scots affected by the pandemic.
Lady Hallet described the film as “extremely moving” and said some may find it “too distressing” to watch.
‘It’s not finished’
A man called Stuart described his struggles with breathing, sleeping and speaking due to long COVID after contracting the deadly virus.
He “assumed” he would get better but instead got worse, saying: ” I went to bed each night not knowing if I was going to wake up the next morning and just didn’t get better.”
He added: “I’ve been on this journey to becoming disabled and having to come to terms with that. My future is very unknown. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
“People think COVID’s finished. It’s not finished. It’s not finished for anybody that’s touched it.”
‘Mum died on her own and that tortures me’
Ruth told of how her mum died in a care home in November 2020.
She said: “We were at the mercy of the care home and that was just window visits.
“She always looked after the family, always unconditional love. It’s just hard because you feel you’ve not given that back to her because it’s an enforced separation from her that you’ve never experienced.”
Ruth said she noticed her mum falling ill via Skype.
She said she was “completely unprepared”, adding: “I just looked at her and thought ‘she’s dying’.”
Ruth was allowed to visit for 10 minutes, but her mum died on her own.
Ruth said: “And that tortures me. The fact that I wasn’t there to hold her hand, I wasn’t there to give her reassurance, I wasn’t there to show my love. That was kind of denied and it’s so important.”
‘I was holding her hand’
A woman called Maggie lost her mum and husband to COVID within six months of each other.
Her mum was admitted to hospital after contracting the virus.
Maggie was able to be by her side at the end, saying: “I was with mum when she died, holding her hand, telling her to try not to be frightened, telling her that my dad would be there waiting for her with his arms open wide, saying ‘I’ve got you bonnie lass’.”
‘Being disabled during COVID was absolutely awful’
A man called James said there was “no provision” for people with specialist needs.
Idrees, who is disabled, said: “My perception was that they thought we were carrying the virus because we had dirty wheels, for example. Trying to convince the general public that we are not the problem is the biggest kind of impact that it had on me.
“It kind of disrupts your whole lifestyle, upside down.”
Idrees, who manages his own support, said he put more pressure on himself as he didn’t want to bother anyone for help.
He said: “I didn’t know what I was entitled to and what was happening because it was changing on a daily basis. It’s very difficult to keep up with that.”
Amanda, who is blind, said she did not think physical distancing would be put in place due to it being “impossible” to guide someone.
She said: “Being disabled during COVID was absolutely awful.”
Amanda explained that blind people were not able to read signs advising people where to stand.
She said: “You just cannot have a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. And I was trying to sort of tell people that I didn’t feel safe, and it felt that people weren’t listening to me.”
Amanda added: “It was like they forgot about disabled people, and it was just so upsetting.”
‘I don’t accept the way she died’
A woman called Sharon told of how her mum, who was shielding, struggled with mental health issues during lockdown due to being isolated.
After being admitted to hospital, Sharon’s mum asked to be taken home.
Sharon said: “Communication with an 80-year-old was extremely difficult. She couldn’t work the phone. We just relied on what the hospital told us.”
The mum tested positive for COVID at hospital and later died.
Sharon said: “I don’t accept the way she died. I don’t. I think it was avoidable.”
‘Nobody was fighting for those with mental health issues’
Jock, who struggles to leave the house due to mental health issues, said: “Because I was mental health disabled, I didn’t qualify for any help or support.”
He said his local advocacy place has not reopened since the pandemic and he has struggled to gain medical support, adding: “So, nobody was fighting for us.”
‘I wouldn’t wish COVID on my worst enemy’
Jan lost her husband, who deteriorated from a “big, strapping, solid man to virtually nothing”.
She said: “He was transferred to ICU. For three solid weeks he battled COVID.
“Never spoke to him. Wasn’t allowed to sit with him. And he died, he died on his own.”
Jan added: “The impact of COVID is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.”
The inquiry continues.