In the first wave of the Covid pandemic in the UK, from March to early September, there were 41,574 deaths, according to government figures. As we move through the second wave and the number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test approaches 60,000, we pay tribute to some of the more recent victims.
Fehzan Jamil, 10
Fehzan is believed to be one of the youngest victims of coronavirus in the UK. The 10-year-old from Bradford, who had a number of underlying health issues including epilepsy, died in hospital after contracting the virus, and a funeral was held on 23 November.
His parents, Tayyaba and Mohammed Jamil, spoke to Channel 4 News about their “indescribable pain” following his death. “There were four of us, now there are only three,” said Mohammed. Tayyaba said: “I just can’t describe our loss. Everything feels empty now.” They described their son as a “really brave fighter” and a “soldier” who was cheerful in spite of his health problems.
Fehzan’s family tried to shield him during the pandemic, knowing that his health issues made him vulnerable to Covid-19. They kept him at home as much as possible, and anyone entering the home had to wear a mask. “We tried our best to keep him safe but somehow Covid got to him,” Mohammed said.
The family praised the care Fehzan received from staff at Bradford Royal Infirmary, where he had been receiving treatment for several years. “All of the staff were very good to us. They have known Fehzan for many years now and have always looked after him,” Tayyaba said. “They let us be beside him when he died. It meant a lot.”
Anthony Gershlick, 69
Gershlick, a leading heart doctor, died on 20 November in intensive care at the hospital where he worked. Known as Tony, he was a renowned clinician and researcher. He had worked as a consultant cardiologist at Glenfield hospital in Leicester for more than 30 years, pioneering research into using wire stents to improve blood flow.
Tony specialised in coronary intervention and was involved in use of the procedure from shortly after its introduction in the UK in the mid-1980s. He received the inaugural British Cardiovascular Intervention Society lifetime achievement career award in 2017, and remained active clinically until becoming unwell recently. He had been a professor of interventional cardiology at the University of Leicester since 2018.
Colleagues paid tribute to the “talented, dedicated and much-loved” professor who had “made a difference to many, many lives”. A minute’s silence was held in remembrance at the university and hospital after his death.
Owen and Bredge Ward, both 69
The couple, from Strabane, County Tyrone, died 12 hours apart in hospital after contracting Covid-19. They loved the simple things in life and lived for their six children and nine grandchildren, on whom they “doted”.
Their son, Martin, held his father’s hand as he died, and his siblings were with his mother at the funeral home. Speaking to BBC NI, he asked for people to think of others and follow coronavirus guidance: “Treat everyone the same – with respect and as if they are one of your family – so you can minimise the harm to others.”
At their funeral at St Mary’s church in Melmount, where the couple married almost 50 years earlier, the parish priest, Fr Michael Doherty, spoke poignantly about how the couple “had a great love of life” and were “united in life and death”.
Owen was an avid GAA supporter and former player of both hurling and football. He was described as outgoing and highly respected. Bredge was known as a quiet and friendly woman. They were happiest when spending time with their ever-growing family, who were “the love of their lives”. Owen loved spending time with the dogs, Bredge enjoyed reading, baking and knitting, and together they loved going for walks.
Hannah Jackson, 36
Jackson died from Covid-19 on 21 November, having been taken to hospital the day before. She had contracted the virus around a week earlier. She was a staff nurse at Medway Maritime hospital in Kent, having left her family in Dominica to join the NHS in 2019. She had been sending money to her relatives to help them after the devastation of Hurricane Laura in August.
Her death came as a shock to her loved ones in her village, Castle Bruce, who remember her as a loving, kind, gentle person. Her sister Hannel told Dominica News: “She lived for nursing and she cared. She went away to make life better for herself and her family; family came first to her.”
Colleagues described Hannah as a “much-loved” and “amazing lady” and said there was “never a frown in the room while she was around”.
Asaf Oktem, 65
Oktem, a father of seven, died on 18 November, shortly after celebrating his 65th birthday. His youngest son, Alex, 26, described his father as amazing and warm. He told LancsLive: “He was just a really warm person. He was probably drawn to people that others would maybe write off and he’d try and keep them right. He was just such a warm presence and he was always smiling. He was just class.”
Oktem was a partner at a kebab shop, Ali Baba on North Road, which opened in 1985, and he was known fondly by regulars as Mr Ali Baba. Customers shared memories of him, calling his passing “a huge loss to the city of Lancaster”. One wrote: “A world with Asaf in was always a brighter, better place. RIP sweetheart.”
A statement posted on the takeaway’s Facebook page read: “Asaf Oktem, you’re now up in the stars, you will never, ever be forgotten and our lives will never be the same without you. We will try our best to continue your work and make you proud! RIP Asaf.” The takeaway was closed on the day of his death but reopened on the following night, with staff saying Asaf “wouldn’t have it any other way”.
Derek Masterton, 66
Masterton, a former Daily Record journalist, died on 13 November, two weeks after testing positive for coronavirus. Having had lung cancer and sepsis in recent years, he had been shielding during the pandemic.
Derek grew up in Irvine and attended Ravenspark Academy, where he met his future wife, Nanette. He moved to Germany aged 16 where he took on a factory job to improve his German, before attending Glasgow University to study languages. He became fluent in German but quit university to become a reporter at the Irvine Times.
He moved to the Record in 1979, where he spent 30 years and rose to assistant news editor, before becoming a senior media relations officer for the Red Cross in 2009. He retired from that job two months before his death.
The former Record news editor Andy Lines, who knew Derek for 35 years, said: “Derek was a brilliant journalist and a Daily Record legend. He was a great reporter and if there was something going on in his beloved Ayrshire he knew about it before anyone else.”
Tracey Donnelly, 53
Donnelly, a support worker for an autism charity, died in Sunderland general hospital after testing positive for coronavirus. Her death followed those of Sue Gargett, 53, and 66-year-old Margaret Blyth, who worked for the same charity. The charity said there was no evidence any of them contracted Covid-19 through their work.
Born and raised in Edinburgh, Tracey moved from Scotland to the north-east of England when she met her husband, George, whom she married in 2012. She joined the North East Autism Society five years ago and worked at several locations across the region, for the past two years mainly at three residential homes in Sunderland. She had four sons, three stepchildren and eight grandchildren.
“I loved her the first time I saw her and I always will. She was so loving and kind – just an extra-special person in every way,” said George. “The one bit of comfort I’ve been able to draw is the number of private messages I’ve had from her colleagues, along with a letter from the parent of one of the service users. That shows what she meant to everyone.”
Jim Pass, 102
Pass, one of Yorkshire’s last Dunkirk and D-day veterans, died on 4 November shortly after being diagnosed with Covid-19. He had been moved into a care home in July following a fall at home. His stepdaughter Kerensa Welsby said he was unable to have visitors including his wife, Rita, inside the care home due to the pandemic. “It has been quite a traumatic period. But there are blessings,” she told the Yorkshire Post. ‘“He was 102 and actually died quite peacefully. He didn’t suffer, which he could have done with Covid, and he lived an amazing life.”
Pass was a motorbike dispatch rider in the Royal Army Service Corps early in the second world war. He narrowly escaped death at Dunkirk, where after waiting for seven days he boarded a paddle steamer that was hit by a bomb. Jim was among those saved by a naval destroyer. On D-day he played a key role, driving a DUKW amphibious vehicle bringing ammunition onshore to Sword beach. After D-day, Jim landed a glider in Holland and fought across to Germany where he reached newly liberated Belsen.
For more than 50 years after the war, Jim was a keen member of the Camping and Caravanning Club. He was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 2016 for his service in liberating France.
Walter Parnham, 79
Parnham was taken to Pilgrim hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire, after a heart attack in October and contracted Covid-19 while being treated. He died on 21 November.
Since the mid-1980s Parnham, known locally as Wally or Mick, had brought Christmas cheer to thousands of children in his home town of Wainfleet, Lincolnshire, by dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out gifts during appearances at schools and events. A keen drummer, he also worked as an engineer and lorry driver and was part of the Wainfleet Theatre Club, regularly helping out with the scenery.
His son, Carl, 55, told LincsLive: “He was full of kindness, he would do anything for anybody and never make a fuss or ask for anything in return. I guess that generosity is what made him a good Santa. I’m heartbroken, and it’s even more crushing that it has happened at this time of year. It was his favourite time and I’m sure many will have fond memories of him bringing them the magic of Christmas.”
Oskar Hartwig, 59
Hartwig died on 19 November after he was hospitalised and then moved to intensive care after contracting Covid-19. About four weeks prior to his death, he and his wife, Jan, caught the virus. While Jan had a mild form of Covid-19, Oskar had underlying health conditions and had to be put on a ventilator.
He worked for Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council for close to 30 years, and while on duty he was known as “Gentle Giant” or “Big Man”. His niece Jackie told CoventryLive he was “Uncle Osk” to many. “He wasn’t just my uncle, he was everyone’s uncle, he was everyone’s friend, an amazing husband to Jan and just as an amazing dad to Kelly, Andy and Sarah and an absolute fabulous grandad. Everyone who got to be in his presence was just instantly drawn in with that beaming smile and that Scotch voice of his and just instantly fell in love with him.”
Andrew Sumner, 78
Sumner died at Lancaster Royal Infirmary on 12 November after testing positive for Covid-19. Born in Preston, he studied at Preston grammar school and Manchester University before becoming a teacher, and head of modern languages at Penwortham girls’ school, until his retirement. Apart from his family, his greatest love was boxing and he became an amateur coach, mentoring young people in gyms in Preston, Blackpool and Bolton.