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'He was a father figure': loved ones remember victims of UK's Covid second wave

Sarah Marsh
·6-min read

When Roehl Ribaya left intensive care after 60 days in the summer, his family thought his battle with coronavirus was over. In July, he left the doors of Blackpool Victoria hospital to applause from staff as lead consultant Dr Jason Cupitt said it signalled the hospital had “survived the first wave of this silent killer”.

But the 47-year-old experienced difficulties from then onwards, finding tasks such as walking up stairs challenging. He was breathless and fragile. On 13 October, he had a cardiac arrest, leaving him in a coma until he died two days later.

Complications from Covid-19 led to Ribaya’s death and his story is among recent tales of loss as the UK experiences a second wave of the virus. “He was depressed when he came out of the hospital because he is 47 and should be fit and well but he felt like a 90-year-old man,” said his close friend Mark Delabajam.

Delabajam and his wife, Angela, had formed a strong bond with Ribaya and his wife, Stella. When the couple first moved to Blackpool from the Philippines, Ribaya had offered them his house to stay in after only meeting them that day. They spent Christmas and holidays together.

He said that when Ribaya came out of the hospital, even though he had challenges he would always try to be positive for those closest to him. “He was strong for his family and friends but we knew he was struggling with his breathing,” Delabajam says. “I had a conversation with his wife who said he would often cry in the middle of the night.”

Ribaya was an aerospace engineer who came to the UK from the Philippines, following in the footsteps of his wife who got a job as a nurse here. “He was like a father figure to many, not just us – there are lots of overseas workers coming in from the Philippines at the moment as hospitals are short-staffed. All those Filipinos that come over, he is like the father figure to most of them,” Angela Delabajam said.

The couple said they saw Ribaya the Sunday before he died and he seemed all right although he had been complaining of shortness of breath. If he could send a message now, Mark said it would “lecture people if they gathered in groups or in crowds … He would say my experience and what I went through hopefully will give you an insight into how bad or worse it could be.”

Hambi Haralambous, 69, a music legend in Liverpool and the founder of the Motor Museum Studio in Lark Lane, which has hosted bands including Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys, died from coronavirus on 16 October.

Haralambous posted photos of himself from his hospital bed, warning people about not taking Covid-19 seriously. His son, Narada, says his father had to wait three days before getting his coronavirus test and was told he would have to go to north Wales for it. Eventually, he got a diagnosis but his health got worse and he was admitted to intensive care.

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Haralambous was born in London to Cypriot parents who came to the UK for work. He was seven when he moved to Liverpool and as a young man, he went to art college before travelling in India. He met his first wife around this time and had two children. He later remarried and had another son and daughter.

Haralambous fronted the popular synth band Hambi and The Dance in the early 1980s, which were signed to Virgin Records. He then moved into recording and managing for other artists, and later retrained in film.

“When my dad was ill in hospital he told me about how unfair this was and how angry he was as he had so much more he wanted to do,” said Narada. “I asked, what it is you want to do, Dad? He said he wanted to finish off certain [creative] projects. That was his passion and what he was thinking about.”

He said the family went through periods of thinking he was getting better.“After a while, he seemed to improve and the doctors were happy with his progress … then he called me one morning and he said the doctors said he was not going to make it. I was shocked as they had just moved him to a different ward.”

“I spoke to the doctors. I wanted to do that before telling the family and they reassured me a bit. They said that they had not told my father he wasn’t going to make it but they had said he had deteriorated a lot and worried and concerned about him.”

Narada said his father’s condition got worse and he died not long after this conversation. “People are not taking this illness seriously and I am sick of seeing it … People don’t understand what this is doing but seeing doctors and nurses, and what have to deal with [shows the toll]. They are doing such a good job of looking after people. No one has a clue until it hits you,” he said.

Another local legend, Rotherham taxi driver Haji Tanveer Hussain, who worked up until his death to support his family, also died from the virus, on Wednesday 7 October, a few weeks after getting ill.

Tributes flooded in for the Pakistan-born driver since his death, with colleagues and customers of Gold Star Taxis worker expressing their sadness at the loss of a “humble” and “joyful” man.

Nasar Raoof, a friend, said Hussain always offered him golden nuggets of advice when he was feeling hopeless. Raoof recalls one particular time when he bumped into him at a local garage and he had had a tough day and felt people were being ungrateful for his hard work. He said Tanveer told him satisfaction comes from within and “by what you do and how you help people”.

“It brightened up my day because it was not going well and it was hectic. It brought a smile to my face,” Raoof said.

He had conversations with Hussain about his concerns working at a time when cases were so high, particularly in Rotherham. “He was worried but he said it was always about striking a balance between being able to provide for your family and being able to stay safe while you do your work,” Raoof said, adding that he always joked that he wished he had a job in an office instead.

During the peak of coronavirus, Hussain was one of a few drivers who offered to do free pharmacy runs for vulnerable people unable to go outside and get their medication.

“Every customer really loved him. He was really just a smiling joyful person. He was polite and courteous – putting himself out there in harm’s way to provide a service. These were the messages that came through social media. There were customers ringing in to offer their sympathies and condolences,” Raoof said.