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‘Covid has ripped the family apart’: the lives lost in the UK’s third wave

The Guardian logo The Guardian 22/07/2021 Sarah Marsh
A woman writes a message on the Covid Memorial Wall in Westminster, London, following the the lifting of almost all coronavirus restrictions on 19 July. © Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA A woman writes a message on the Covid Memorial Wall in Westminster, London, following the the lifting of almost all coronavirus restrictions on 19 July.

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Ninety-six deaths; ninety-six lives lost. This week, the UK’s daily reported coronavirus death toll rose to its highest number since March. Now grieving families are speaking out to remind the public that these are not just statistics, and to urge people to get vaccinated and keep taking precautions.

Since the UK announced zero coronavirus deaths on 1 June for the first time in nearly a year, a further 1,114 deaths have been reported including 73 on Wednesday, signifying amid soaring cases that the vaccination programme has weakened but not broken the link between infections and fatalities. The total number of those who have lost their lives to the pandemic now stands at 128,823.

People read the messages on the National Covid Memorial Wall at the embankment on the south side of the River Thames in London on May 28, 2021, which features hearts and messages in memory of those who lost their lives to Covid-19. - Organised by the group Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice UK, which has called for a public inquiry into the governments handling of the pandemic, volunteers created a mural made up of roughly 150,000 hand-drawn red and pink hearts to remember the victims of the coronavirus crisis. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images) People read the messages on the National Covid Memorial Wall at the embankment on the south side of the River Thames in London on May 28, 2021, which features hearts and messages in memory of those who lost their lives to Covid-19. - Organised by the group Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice UK, which has called for a public inquiry into the governments handling of the pandemic, volunteers created a mural made up of roughly 150,000 hand-drawn red and pink hearts to remember the victims of the coronavirus crisis. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said that for families who had lost people to the virus “the last few weeks have been some of the most distressing” as restrictions have been lifted across England.

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“Bereaved families know all too well that those who are continuing to die from the pandemic are not just statistics but people who leave behind them a world of grief, misery, and pain for their loved ones. We must not allow them to be forgotten,” she said.

Carla Hodges, 35, said the new wave of Covid has ripped her family apart. Her stepfather Leslie Lawrenson, 58, died at home from the virus on 2 July and her mother ended up in hospital.

Commuters with and without facemasks arrive at Waterloo station in London © NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images Commuters with and without facemasks arrive at Waterloo station in London

Leslie, a musician who played in bands, had no underlying health conditions and thought he could survive Covid because the death rate was so low. He had not been vaccinated.

Leslie, who grew up in Hertfordshire and moved to Dorset, first met his wife in school and reunited with her later in life, and the couple have an 11-year-old son. “He did not believe in vaccinations,” Carla said. “My mother did not have the vaccine either, although she had underlying health conditions such as diabetes.” She said her mother was now looking to get a jab, adding: “She is very lucky to still be here.”

About 60% of people being admitted to hospital with Covid are unvaccinated, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said this week. While more younger people are catching Covid and being hospitalised than in the first wave, 3% of deaths between 28 May and 9 July were among the under-40s, 17% were aged 40-59 and 80% were 60 and over.

Dedications to coronavirus disease victims are seen written on the National Covid Memorial Wall, with the Houses of Parliament behind, in London, Britain May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville © REUTERS/Toby Melville Dedications to coronavirus disease victims are seen written on the National Covid Memorial Wall, with the Houses of Parliament behind, in London, Britain May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville

“Covid has ripped the family apart,” Carla said. “The nurses and doctors said to my mum: ‘With Covid, there is no textbook illness and everyone reacts differently.’

“I know not getting vaccinated is a massive regret of my mother’s. She was embarrassed to tell hospital staff she had not had the jab.” She said her mother is now struggling with rental payments and funeral costs, and a crowdfunding page has been launched. “Amessage to everyone: get jabbed,” Carla said.

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British Airways pilot Nicholas Synnott was elated when he left intensive care in the US after 243 days and headed home to Surrey thinking he had won his battle with Covid. He punched the air and hugged medical staff as he left.

A couple look over the National Covid Memorial Wall on the embankment on the south side of the River Thames in London © TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images A couple look over the National Covid Memorial Wall on the embankment on the south side of the River Thames in London

But Synnott died in June, 15 months after he first contracted the virus flying to Houston in Texas from Heathrow. Synnott, 60, reportedly experienced multi-organ failures in hospital and his wife, Nicola, 54, spent every day by his bedside.

Brendon Jones died from Covid aged 33 on 13 July after a short battle with the illness. He had also not been vaccinated as he experienced agoraphobia and had struggled to organise transport to get the jab.

Brendon, who lived with his parents, woke up one day looking unwell. “He started with a cough initially. He did not normally get ill but with this, he became poorly so rapidly, his mother, Hayley Jones, said. “It started with vomiting and diarrhoea and then he had chest pains and his breathing went downhill. His throat was closing.”

Medical staff walk past ambulances at the Royal London Hospital in London © Xinhua/Tim Ireland via Getty Images Medical staff walk past ambulances at the Royal London Hospital in London

She called 111 and spoke to an ambulance crew but despite her son gasping for air, he was told he did not need paramedics, she said. He stayed at home for the next few days unable to move until he started drifting in and out of consciousness and an ambulance was called again. This time he ended up in intensive care. A few days later he died.

His mother described her son as a “mild and shy boy outside his family”. His world came alive online and he had a passion for video games. When he died his mother said she was touched by people who told her how much his family had meant to Brendon.

“His death will leave a massive hole … Brendon led a different kind of life to the norm but it was his life. He accepted everybody as they were and friends and family accepted him. For this, he will always be remembered.”

A flower is seen mounted amongst painted hearts on the National Covid Memorial wall beside St Thomas' hospital set as a memorial to all those who have died so far in the UK from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), amid the coronavirus pandemic in London, Britain April 8, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay © REUTERS/Hannah McKay A flower is seen mounted amongst painted hearts on the National Covid Memorial wall beside St Thomas' hospital set as a memorial to all those who have died so far in the UK from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), amid the coronavirus pandemic in London, Britain April 8, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Hayley said her son had no other health conditions and that people should realise that young people can also get the virus and die from it. “Brendon did not believe in forcing the vaccine on people and that everyone had a choice but he did believe in it and had wanted it himself,” she said.

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