UK's Johnson backs public inquiry into handling of pandemic

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for a debate on the Queen Speech at House of Commons in London, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that an independent public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic will be held next year.

He told lawmakers Wednesday that the inquiry will have wide-ranging statutory powers and that the government has a responsibility to learn lessons from the pandemic.

Johnson said he expects the inquiry to begin its work next spring.

Families of those who have died during the pandemic have been calling on Johnson to call an inquiry since last summer, but the prime minister consistently said the time wasn’t right.

The U.K. has recorded Europe’s highest virus-related death toll with more than 127,500 people dead.