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Hero NHS surgeon dies of Covid after spending months away from family

A hero surgeon has died of coronavirus after spending months away from his family on the pandemic frontline.

Dr Irfan Halim, 45, who had been working in Swindon, Wiltshire, passed away at a London hospital last weekend after a nine-week battle with with the virus.

The devoted husband and father spent his last moments in the arms of his wife, who said she was 'whispering prayers and love into his ears'.

It comes as daily Covid cases in the UK continue to rise while hospital admissions fall and deaths remain flat, as the epidemic becomes increasingly unpredictable.

There were 46,807 positive tests in the last 24 hours, which is the highest number since October 22 and a 10 per cent increase on last Thursday.

Infections have increased week-on-week on seven of the previous eight days, following the return of schools from half-term at the start of the month. 

There were also 199 coronavirus deaths registered yesterday, marking a two per cent increase on last week's toll.

Latest hospital data shows there were 799 admissions on November 14, down 9 per cent in a week.

Dr Halim, who was a father of four children under the age of 12, was a skilled surgeon at Swindon Hospital, specialising in laparoscopic surgery.

The medic also worked on the prestigious Harley Street in central London for private clients.

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He was described as a medical powerhouse who was like '10 men in one body' and treated more than 250,000 patients during an incredible career.

Dr Halim had one of the highest volume practices in Britain, with about 300 new patients arriving monthly and him operating on more than 1,200 people.

He went to work on September 10 but never returned after catching coronavirus and becoming increasingly ill.

His wife Saila said: 'My beloved Irfan passed away on the Sunday, November 14 at 7.51pm peacefully whilst I held him in my arms whispering prayers and love into his ears along with his brother and sister surrounded by his beautiful friends.'

She added: 'Irfan you gave me fifteen magical years as your wife, four beautiful children, wonderful memories that will last me until my remaining days in this world.

'You gave 25 dedicated years service to the NHS working as a Consultant General Surgeon.

'Irfan you were not only my best friend but a best friend to all our children and so many others.'

Dr Halim had spent the past two years saving Covid patients and on September 10 was on a ward round when he collapsed having allegedly caught Covid at work.

He was treated in Swindon Hospital ICU for two weeks before being transferred to The Royal Brompton Hospital in London.

He received treatment on a special artificial lung, called Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation.

Hash Syed, who worked on a new digital health platform with Dr Halim earlier this year, told the Mirror: 'I will cherish the fun we had building Entero at the Antler hub near Liverpool Street.

'Whether it be you riding around on your scooter, or our favourite burger bar. You were the definition of service to others, and believing in more.

'A man of many talents across being a doctor, a pilot and a lawyer. Most importantly, loving father and husband and great friend. '

Another colleague added: 'Being a fighter, he never gave up. He kept believing he would recover.

'He didn't smoke or drink, a friend said, and was someone who just 'helped people all the time.'

A GoFundMe for Dr Halim was set up and has so far raised more than £75,000 towards a £100,000 target.

It says: 'This fund has been set up for the family of Dr Irfan Halim, a wonderful talented and incredible NHS Doctor who worked hard to help others.

'Irfan was dearly loved and touched so many peoples lives. Sadly, he was taken far too soon from those who love him.

'Not only was he a loving husband, a devoted father of four young beautiful children, but an incredibly awesome human being to all that were blessed to have met him.

'He spent four months away from his family at the height of the pandemic, working in the covid wards.

'Irfan and the NHS worked frantically to bring him home to his beautiful family, but tragically he passed away after a nine week fight against Covid.

'We have set up this fund as close friends and family to ease the burden of losing Irfan.

'Irfan was the sole breadwinner for his family. May Irfan's memory be a blessing to all who met and loved him.' 

His death comes as Britain braces for another winter battling coronavirus, with death and cases data becoming increasingly hard to predict.

The Government has not put a threshold on the number of daily hospital admissions it is willing to tolerate before rolling back restrictions.

But one of its top scientific advisers, 'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson suggested last month that figure could be 1,200.

Meanwhile Britain's largest symptom-tracking study found the number of people falling ill with the virus every week fell by a tenth last week.

Professor Tim Spector, the eminent King's College London scientist who runs the study, said he was 'cautiously optimistic' restrictions will not be needed.

Fears of Christmas curbs were raised this week when Boris Johnson admitted the draconian action was not off the cards.

The PM pointed to infection across Europe, which have sent nations back into lockdowns, as a sign of what could happen here.

Professor Spector said: 'In terms of what it means for Christmas, I'm cautiously optimistic for the remainder of the year. It's becoming clear that children and the school holidays play a key role in the waves of infection. 

'I think it's safe to say that we can expect to see another rise in the new year after the holidays.' But he still called on all Britons to get fully vaccinated against the virus, as well as ensuring they have their booster doses.

And he urged everyone to start using face masks in crowded spaces such as public transport. This was a softening of his tone from barely three weeks ago when he warned ministers should consider Plan B.

Professor Spector's symptom study relies on daily reports from more than 750,000 Britons on whether they are feeling unwell and if they test positive for Covid.

It is based on self-reporting and dose not ask participants to give evidence of their symptoms. The latest estimates used 40,000 tests for the virus over the fortnight to November 13.  

Mr Johnson said earlier this week that it still was not possible to rule out some Covid restrictions being reimposed.

He told a Downing Street press conference: 'Clearly we cannot rule anything out and the most important thing people can do to prevent further NPIs from being taken is to — non-pharmaceutical interventions that is, further restrictions — get the boosters.'

But he added there was still nothing in the data to suggest further restrictions were needed. Scientists fear further Covid measures may be needed if a new variant emerges that is more transmissible and better able to dodge vaccine-triggered immunity.

Last winter the Kent 'Alpha' variant triggered a spike in Covid cases, leading to Christmas day plans being thrust into chaos at the last minute. 

Reference: James Gant For Mailonline 

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