A family who fear they became infected with coronavirus after attending the funeral of a COVID-19 victim have urged the public to take social distancing seriously after losing another relative to the disease.
Sheila Brooks, 86, died in February and her extended family attended her funeral a fortnight ago, before stringent movement restrictions were put in place in Britain.
Within days her niece Susan Nelson, 65, who had no underlying health conditions, became ill and died of suspected COVID-19.
Now 16 further family members suspect they have the virus – including Susan's husband and the couple’s daughter.
The family are now urging people to follow social distancing rules, saying that not do so would be “madness”.
“The speed it acts at is phenomenal and how vicious it is can't be underestimated,” Susan’s son Carl, 42, said. “Don’t be stupid and don’t risk it.
“Everyone, please follow the advice. Stay home, stay safe. Anyone who thinks they are fit and healthy, that it's just like the cold or flu, don’t risk it.”
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Retired sandwich shop owner Susan, from Halesowen, West Midlands, died on the same hospital ward as her aunt.
Her daughter Amanda, 34, an NHS business support manager, is also showing symptoms after attending the memorial service and is currently isolating at home with her father Robert.
Amanda, who also suffers from Addison’s disease, said: “It was my [great-] aunt’s funeral so a lot of the wider family were there.
“We have just had so many people contract the virus that I can only think it was from then.
“We now have someone else in our family in hospital that's probably not going to survive it.
“My 21-year-old cousin has it, right the way up to a great-uncle that is 88 and showing symptoms. None of us seems to have been missed out of it.
“Our beautiful, caring mum was the centre of the family – we are a very close, large family and this has destroyed us.”
The family attended the funeral on 13 March and Susan Nelson grew ill over the following days. Her family called an ambulance on 16 March and she was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. She died with her husband Robert at her side the following day.
Her son Carl said: “She was coughing a lot, very breathless and showing all the symptoms.
“She was admitted to hospital and I spoke to the staff the following day. They said the next 48 hours were critical before they called me back a few hours later to say it was very close to the end and one member of the family could be with her.
“Because I had none of the symptoms I couldn’t go, and my sister was too unwell battling the illness herself.
“Fortunately, my dad Robert was able to go and be with her when she died.”
“I had to tell her they wouldn't let me come and I wasn’t allowed to see her. I didn't want her to die thinking that I didn't want to come.
“We can't have any other families to go through what we are going through at the moment. It’s about getting the message out. It's about seeing the faces of loved ones and thinking ‘this is real’.”
The family are unable to make funeral arrangements for Susan due to the government clampdown on mass gatherings.
In recognition of the NHS workers who tried to save Susan, the family have set up a Just Giving page with proceeds going to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity.
Carl said: “In the conditions, they are working under, it's phenomenal. My dad described it as a living hell.
“What they are facing on a day-to-day basis, no one truly understands or appreciates what they put into their job.
“If we can all just do something little that goes to them, that they can benefit from and just to say thank you, it would be great. My family are all grateful for the work they did.
“They couldn't save Mum but they gave everything to do so and made her comfortable in the end.”