As the UK reaches a grim pandemic milestone, the nation mourns

When Ozel Ekrem last saw her father alive on March 8 last year, a brisk spring day, he was in the garden, tending to a barbecue.

Arif Niyazi, a British-Cypriot restaurateur from Birmingham was a happy-go-lucky character and known to regularly defy the cold English weather.

“I told him: ‘Come inside dad, it’s too cold to do a barbecue’,” Ekrem told Al Jazeera. “But you can’t tell a Cypriot when to do a barbecue or not.”

Later that month, the 60-year-old father died in hospital after being infected with the COVID-19 virus.

“It’s been very difficult,” she said. “I couldn’t visit him in the hospital. We weren’t able to do a proper funeral. I don’t feel like I’ve said goodbye to my dad. For now, we’re trapped in this alternate reality. When the pandemic is over, I think it will hit us again. He was a really great person. How is my dad gone?”Niyazi was one of more than 100,000 victims of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK, a staggering death toll reached before any other country in Europe, according to official figures published by the health department on Tuesday.

‘A horrible way to go’

Another one of those victims was Jani Abbs-Brown, a teacher who died last week at the age of 62, four days after testing positive for COVID-19.

“She was one of the kindest people you would meet and very generous,” said Ned Abbs-Brown, her son, one of three children that she adopted. “She was very passionate about literature and poetry. The walls of the house were full of books.”

But the circumstances surrounding her death are proving difficult to accept for the family.

“It was a really horrible way to go,” said Ned. “She couldn’t move or open her eyes and she was struggling to breathe – all she could do was lift her hand. But I think it was preventable and that makes me angry.

“How is the government only just closing the borders now? I think it’s a real failure of leadership. She will never get the chance to see me grow up, get a house and get married.”

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