On November 11 – just eight months after its first recorded fatality – the UK’s Covid-19 death toll passed 50,000.
In September, health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons’ health and social care committee there was “no inevitability to a second peak”.
Yet that is what came, with the government criticised for delivering unclear messaging, flip-flopping over lockdown rules, and stubbornly low contact rates through the Test and Trace system. Since the end of July, when no deaths were recorded following diagnosis with Covid-19, the numbers have crept up again – slowly at first, but more recently at an alarming rate. More than 13,000 people have lost their lives to the so-called “second wave” of the coronavirus pandemic.
Each day brings more news of fatalities in the hundreds. And with each day, it becomes harder to focus on the individuals behind the numbers.
As one grieving family member told HuffPost UK: “These victims aren’t just a sad statistic. Behind every one of those numbers is a human being who was loved, whose smiles lit up the room and who have left broken hearts behind them.
“They deserve recognition.”
Anne Chapman, 78
Died October 16 in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
A devout Catholic and former nurse, Anne Chapman was adored by her family and her entire community. Upon her death, the streets of her village of Newtownbutler were lined with mourners to pay their respects.
“She was just amazing,” her daughter Thérése told HuffPost UK. “She loved her children and her grandchildren. She did so much good and everybody loved her. She was an amazing example of how a human being should be.
“Mammy loved her faith and a good old Catholic pilgrimage, but she was also always up for the craic. She loved going on cruises with her friends and sun holidays, Mrs Brown’s Boys and Strictly Come Dancing.”
In 2016, Anne was diagnosed with blood cancer. A mother-of-eight, she was unfazed by the prognosis but within a short space of time went from walking 10 miles each day to not being able to go to the kitchen for a cup of tea.
She had only just completed 10 months of cancer treatment at the beginning of October when she suddenly fell sick. A few days later, she tested positive for Covid-19.
“I couldn’t quite believe it,” Thérése said. “We come from a little village in Northern Ireland where nobody had it.” Just two weeks later, Anne became the village’s first Covid-19 victim.
Her husband, 78, also became sick and is now in his fifth week in hospital battling the virus. In a “bizarre” twist of fate, the couple ended up on the same ward together – the hospital’s first “Covid couple”.
When Anne passed, he was sitting right beside her. The family are optimistic about his chances of recovery but say he is “heartbroken” and hospital staff are worried about his emotional state.
“They weren’t a lovey-dovey couple but you only had to look at them to know the love they had for each other was evident and strong. Now that chain is broken, and Daddy’s grieving. He’s a broken man in every sense of the word.”
Thérése was in Birmingham when she first learned of her mother’s Covid-19 test result and was unable to travel back to Northern Ireland in time. “We were so close so it was very difficult for me to not be with her.”
It’s something she struggles to come to terms with. In addition to speaking with her priests, Thérése has found support in the Alone Together network alongside other people across the UK who have lost loved ones to the pandemic. “To lose somebody in these circumstances... I just felt nobody else understood.”
“In Ireland, your funeral is a big, beautiful thing,” she continued. “It’s something to be celebrated like your wedding or baptism. Your coffin would be open for a day or two so your friends and family could sit and say their goodbyes.
“The church would be absolutely packed and the celebration provides a lot of comfort for people. But because of Covid, we didn’t get that comfort. It’s just not how we say goodbye in our faith.”
Despite the sudden and irreplaceable loss of her mother, Thérése believes her family are the lucky ones. “If you compare us to other families, many have died alone. My father was with my mother, holding her hand.
“She was not on her own.”
Catherine Mehdaoui, 57
Died October 31 in Liverpool
In a heartwarming tribute in their local newspaper, Catherine Mehdaoui is described by her son, Dan, as an outgoing former punk with a “lust for life”. “There was never a time when she wasn’t smiling,” the tribute reads.
“It depends on how much reality you want,” Dan, 33, admitted to HuffPost UK. “I can celebrate so much about my mum; she had this great sense of humour and she was a fighter.
“But the truth is that towards the end, she was also very, very scared. She was literally petrified and alone and isolated.”
Catherine was 57 when she died in hospital after testing positive for Covid-19. Earlier this year, she had been diagnosed with stage three lung cancer. “We always knew it was terminal but we thought she’d make it through Christmas.”
While she was in hospital receiving radiation treatment and chemotherapy, Catherine was placed in a ward close to one that was treating patients with coronavirus.
In the weeks preceding her death, she sent messages to virtually everyone she knew. “Taking pain and sickness tablets but still in pain and sick with worry,” one said. Another talked about the lack of doctors and protection on the ward.
“She was convinced she was unnecessarily exposed to Covid-19. It wasn’t till she had passed on and I went through her phone, that I actually realised how scared she was.”
Dan places the responsibility of his mother being infected with Covid-19 squarely on “bad policies on the hospital’s behalf”. Her death has left him – her only child – in a thousand pieces. “We were very close. We leaned on each other because we considered ourselves the last of our family. The ones I’ve got left I don’t even know.”
They also supported each other when they were experiencing difficulties with their mental health. “The special thing about my mum is that she recognised part of my [depression]. When one of us was feeling OK, the other could talk. Now there’s no one left to have those kinds of conversations with.
“The most brutal thing is to have to face Christmas alone now. I had accepted the cancer but I wasn’t prepared for Covid. I’m in hell.”
In order to raise money for his mother’s funeral costs, Dan has set up a GoFundMe page on which he has written: “She was a special person with a witty personality. Those who knew her knew she could also be stubborn. She often went out of her way to help others in times of need.
“Only those who knew her can feel the loss inside of such a special person and as for myself she was one of the pieces of my life that still made any sense.”
Wilbald Tesha, 60
Died September 2 in Eastbourne
Known to his friends simply as Tesha, Wilbald Tesha worked for the NHS as a psychiatric nurse after moving to the UK from Tanzania. His friend and former colleague, Jason O’Flaherty, described Tesha’s life as a “really positive story about immigration”.
“He gave 30 years to the NHS and he was really admired for that work,” Jason told HuffPost UK. “Throughout his time here, he helped lots of people – all of his colleagues and friends. He would do anything for anybody.”
Immensely proud of his Tanzanian heritage, Tesha would regularly take trips to his small village at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, where his seven-year-old son remains. “Anyone who knew him knew about where he had come from, and he was always trying to get people to go back to his village and support it in some way.”
He and his brother helped build a high school and install running water in their village of Shimbwe, and even as he was in hospital being treated for coronavirus, Tesha was making plans to develop a new project to support the children in his village.
A fundraiser created in Tesha’s memory to support his former primary school and other schools in Shimbwe has received almost £10,000 in donations.
Tesha dedicated his working life to the NHS, where he largely spent at Eastbourne District General Hospital. “I have heard many, many wonderful things about Tesha and what a kind, caring and compassionate nurse he was,” said Samantha Allen, chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation.
“A good friend to many and someone who would do anything to help another.”
In July, Tesha tested positive for Covid-19 after working night shifts assessing patients with acute mental health problems in the A&E department at the hospital. After more than a month in intensive care, Tesha became the 196th frontline healthcare worker in the UK to have lost their life to the pandemic, according to PA news agency. “He was taken too soon,” said Jason.
“He was Black African, so he was at a higher risk and he was aware and concerned about that, but he was also really committed to his role as a nurse,” said Jason – who also works as an NHS nurse.
“Some of his colleagues definitely think [his dying of Covid-19] was preventable. We’ve had so many mixed messages around what PPE we should be wearing and he was definitely worried – we were all worried.”
Tesha and Jason met as students and stayed close friends in the decades that followed; Tesha was the best man at Jason’s wedding in 2015. “He was a lovely, kind person. We’ve had an amazing response from people about the impact he had on their lives.
“There were so many people who considered him as their best friend – isn’t that amazing?”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.