After two months of rising Covid-19 cases in the UK, people have celebrated falling numbers in the past week. But the number of deaths from the virus rose to 131 on Tuesday, the highest since March. Behind those numbers are lives lost and grieving families urging people to get vaccinated and keep taking precautions.
Among those dealing with their grief is Paul Nuttall after the death of his 24-year-old son, Billy – affectionately called “sunbeam” by his dad for his ability to light up a room.
Billy, an Oxford history graduate who was doing a master’s in politics at Manchester, had his life shaken by Covid. He had isolated – barely leaving the house – for 18 months and because of this he gained weight, reaching 190kg (30st). He went to fitness classes with his dad but before they could really make a difference he caught Covid and died on 26 July.
Tributes have poured in for the student, described by his teachers as the “heart and soul” of their classes, who was passionate about fighting inequality and wanted to launch a career developing policies to improve lives.
His friend Emily credits him with saving her life. She said Billy supported her through a “hellish personal independence payments [PIP] appeal”.
“When the council struggled to source daily living care to help me live with my disabilities, Billy stepped in and he has spent the last two years being my primary carer,” she said, adding that he spent his time fighting “unfairness” for others. “He taught me how the most powerful gestures of support can be the simplest, how inviting a friend to sleep on your floor can literally save a life,” she said.
Nuttall said his son was his “best friend” and he had received condolence messages from all over the world. Due to his age he had not been called early for vaccination, and his father said he was “waiting and waiting” for it.
Emily said: “I can’t help but wonder whether he might’ve pulled through if he’d had the chance to receive his first dose of a vaccine, but despite living in one of the early Delta variant hotspots, delays in surge vaccination of young people meant that he didn’t have chance to get his first jab before falling ill.”
Dani Coombs would have turned 26 on Thursday but never got to celebrate. She fell ill with Covid and died, and her family are fundraising to raise money for her fiance, who is now a single parent of three children.
Dani’s aunt, Kelly Coombs, said her niece was not classed as vulnerable and so had not been given the vaccine early. However, she did have a condition that weakened her immune system.
Coombs is urging all young people to get jabbed, saying Dani’s story shows that age does not make you invincible to the virus. “Young people don’t see the importance of it,” she said.
“Dani was a stay-at-home mother with three children aged seven, four and two. The youngest child had ADHD and autism, so she had her hands full and she had just found him a suitable nursery and was trying to get him a place. She was rushing around and not thinking of herself, as mums do. But if she had known she was vulnerable she would have gone and had the vaccine earlier,” Coombs said.
“The sad thing is she genuinely was so kind and … she also was an advocate for nature and loved animals. She would have done anything for them and hated plastic in the ocean. She was thoughtful.”
For Julie Lewis, 66, Covid took hold quickly and after not getting better for two weeks an ambulance was called. The former nurse died 48 hours later on 10 June, six days before her birthday.
“To be honest I don’t think it has sunk in yet because it happened so quickly,” her daughter Lucy said, adding that after her mother’s death she feels strongly that an inquiry into the pandemic by the government needs to happen as soon as possible so lessons can be learned and no more lives lost.
“My mum was everyone’s mum – nobody was not welcome around our house. She was the warmest person, and would do anything for anyone. Her whole life was dedicated to looking after others so much so that she put herself last,” she added.
Lucy has added her mother’s name to a public memorial wall, which she said at the moment is not protected and could be taken down. She hopes all the names can remain there, saying the families would scrub the names off themselves to have their family back. But they cannot and having a space to remember loved ones “makes a difference” to show they are not just statistics but victims of the pandemic.
“They were people’s mums, dads, grandmothers and children,” she said.