We have all changed over the past 12 months.
Like a daily ritual, we wake up every morning to hear about the hundreds of lives lost to Covid-19 in the previous 24 hours. Each day, each number, is a reminder that we have yet to waken from this bad dream. It’s a reminder that thousands of families start their day with an empty chair at the dining table and a hole in their lives.
Now, that number has reached a milestone: 100,000 of our family and friends have died as a result of coronavirus.
100,000 is an unfathomable number. It is a scale of loss not known to my generation, and something not seen since the Second World War. This new bleak and disheartening stage of the pandemic brings with it another record: the UK has the worst Covid-19 death rate in the world.
But the numbers don’t tell the real story. Buried in that 100,000 number is the story of real people, all with lives, dreams, families and friends. They will have had plans to go to their favourite holiday destination in the summer or see their grandkids graduate and get married. With their futures cut short and those dreams lost, we have to make an effort today of all days, to remind ourselves that this scale of death and human suffering is not normal.
When my father tested positive for coronavirus last March, a lot less was known of the virus. We didn’t know what trajectory it would take, or what treatment options were available to us. Locked down and unable to travel, we could only reassure him over the phone that we were there for him despite our physical absence.
Eleven days later, he was gone.
“No one could have prepared us to lose our father in a deadly pandemic.”
Most of us in adulthood attempt to prepare ourselves for the loss of a parent and the inevitable pain and sense of loneliness that comes with it. But no one could have prepared us to lose our father in a deadly pandemic.
Losing someone in this pandemic is as disorientating and debilitating an experience as one can go through. We are unable to see our loved ones in their final moments, unable to be there for them and hold their hands and not able to say goodbye. Then, the absence of the embrace of family and friends leaves you going through this journey largely alone.
We never held a real funeral for my dad. I was forced to FaceTime into his burial and hold traditional prayers in private. We were unable to gather with our immediate family to support each other through the difficult times. I couldn’t even see my mother for fear of spreading the virus to her. All of this left us, and many like us, unable to process what had happened. To this day, lingering in the back of my mind, I expect him to return when this crisis is all over.
I know now that my story and our experience is not an extraordinary one.
In the weeks and months since the pandemic took grip of our country and the world, I have seen friends walk the same path I did. I have seen them lose loved ones to this virus and endure the same difficulties I did alone. Every day our social media timelines and messages are filled with announcements of someone else passing away, and the loss and sorrow of their loved ones. These 100,000 voices and those they leave behind are having an indelible impact on our communities. While the individual journey has been difficult for my family and I, it hurts just as bad to see so many others now going through the same thing.
“It is beyond doubt, at least to me, that much of our pain now is now the full responsibility of Boris Johnson and his government.”
There is no reason the death and devastation of this pandemic needed to be on the scale that it has been as is in. When my father was diagnosed with coronavirus, it was still largely an unknown crisis. In early 2020, leaders all around the globe scrambled to gain control and handle this new crisis, and we understood the epidemiology of this new disease much less. However, in 2021, nearly a year after the initial outbreak, there are no more excuses for this government and our prime minister.
We knew what was coming, and we could have stopped it.
Months after my father’s death, we continue to see calamitous mistake after calamitous mistake contribute to our continuing crisis. The scandal of PPE shortages, the refusal to lockdown earlier, the embarrassment of test and trace, the lack of travel restrictions, keeping schools open despite the best advice, the emergency in care homes – all must be reminders that this was not inevitable. We could have saved thousands of lives and spared so many families the pain and hurt we went through.
The government may have pleaded ignorance in March 2020, but they have no excuse now. It is beyond doubt, at least to me, that much of our pain now is now the full responsibility of Boris Johnson and his government. All 100,000 deaths, and those still to come.
Ali Milani is a Labour councillor, writer and campaigner. Follow him on Twitter at @ARMilani_
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