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While my father was dying from Covid in hospital, No. 10 were flouting the rules at a Christmas party

4 min read

With December upon us, I had mentally begun to prepare for the first anniversary of the death of my father, Ahsan-ul-Haq Chaudry. He was 81 and died from Covid-19 on the 28 December 2020. I knew it would be tough, but I wasn’t expecting to be fully re-traumatised with flashbacks of how Covid-19 stole my father’s ability to breathe. But I am, as a consequence of watching the leaked footage about an alleged party at No. 10 Downing Street last Christmas.

As an alleged party of between 40-50 gathered to open their secret Santa presents on 18 December, my father became unwell. I was making a film for Channel 4 Dispatches about Covid-19 in a hospital in North Wales at the time. When I got the call, I returned to London filled with dread, praying it wasn’t Covid. But as a doctor, I knew the symptoms suggested it would be. Families around the country stayed away from loved ones, cancelled celebrations and stuck to rules, but the seat of power flouted them. In the leaked footage, Allegra Stratton, former advisor to the Prime Minister, moots that it was a cheese and wine “business meeting” with no social distancing, mocking the rules set in place to save lives.

On 22 December as Stratton laughed, I stood by my father’s bed and cried. That was the day my father was fitted with the tight-fitting CPAP face mask that pushes air into the lungs. He deteriorated rapidly to the point he couldn’t breathe without it. Taking sips of water became a fear inducing operation - coordinating mask off and cups to lips for a sip before he frantically sought the mask again. He had to choose between drinking or breathing.

I feel a sickness in my stomach remembering the fear I felt for him, standing by his bed, my eyes burning with tears

One of the flashbacks that I have, is of my father’s mouth being filled with blood from a mixture of blood thinning medication and pressure from the CPAP mask. I worked hard to bury the memory of knowing he passed away with the taste of blood in his mouth but this week, that’s been undone. Even as I write, I feel a sickness in my stomach remembering the fear I felt for him, standing by his bed, my eyes burning with tears.

I was fortunate to be there as my father’s carer, when so many others weren’t able to be with their loved ones. The hospital allowed carers to stay with patients. The staff were so stretched, me caring for my father meant that they could care for someone else. 

The video demonstrates the utter disregard this government, led by Boris Johnson, has had for the rest of us throughout the pandemic. My birthday falls on 22 December and annually the family tradition has been a celebratory gathering in my father’s house. Last year we cancelled it months before, sticking to the rules. The rest of us manage to behave safely but this government have not.

I am grateful to whoever leaked the footage. It was the right thing to do. I now ask others to do the same. Until the inquiry starts, this is all we have to confirm our fears of gross failures by the government to protect the nation. Decisions made from the beginning of the pandemic have been at odds with experts. Recall the infamous press conference where Jenny Harries, the then deputy chief medical officer, stated that World Health Organisation advise on how to fight Covid-19, was not relevant to the UK but “other countries.” She was wrong. 

A police investigation feels the only definitive route to the truth. Everyone else had to face the law when they breached the rules. But at the moment the Metropolitan Police say there is a lack of evidence. I don’t understand that. More important than before, an independent inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, as called for by the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK, needs to begin immediately. The moment we cross the start line, all evidence, including emails, documents, messages and footage becomes protected legally. Until we start, such material remains vulnerable. 

Boris Johnson and his government remain a public health hazard. Over 160,000 families have lost loved ones to Covid-19. Some people are already saying they will not stick to restrictions as a consequence of the behaviour emerging from No 10. If that’s the case, then there will be a rise in infections and deaths. For the sake of public safety, Boris Johnson should resign.

 

Dr Saleyha Ahsan is an A&E doctor, journalist and presenter. 

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