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‘My dad isn’t a statistic’: Bereaved daughter demands public inquiry into coronavirus pandemic

PUBLISHED: 12:55 22 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:38 22 July 2020

Michael Gottlieb, 73, died from coronavirus on April 17 at the Royal Free. Here he is pictured with his wife Mili on their 40th wedding anniversary. Picture: Rivka Gottlieb

Michael Gottlieb, 73, died from coronavirus on April 17 at the Royal Free. Here he is pictured with his wife Mili on their 40th wedding anniversary. Picture: Rivka Gottlieb

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A grieving daughter whose father died from coronavirus is calling for an immediate public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Michael lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb and worked at Muswell Hill Golf Club. Picture: Rivka GottliebMichael lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb and worked at Muswell Hill Golf Club. Picture: Rivka Gottlieb

Michael Gottlieb, 73, from Hampstead Garden Suburb, died of Covid-19 on April 17 after displaying symptoms on March 22 – the day before the country entered lockdown.

Rivka Gottlieb, of East Finchley, is “fighting” for justice “in the name” of her dad and to prevent what she calls “more unnecessary deaths”.

The 48-year-old is part of the campaign group, Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK, made up of families who have lost loved ones to coronavirus, and who have called on Boris Johnson to order an independent inquiry into the pandemic.

Rivka told the Ham&High: “My dad isn’t a statistic. He’s a person and he had a life. He had family, friends and hundreds of people are mourning his loss.

“When you listen to personal stories it brings it to life and you realise that actually this disease doesn’t discriminate.”

Before contracting coronavirus, Michael was “fit, active and healthy”, and worked part-time at Muswell Hill Golf Club’s pro shop.

Rivka (right), Michael and his granddaughter on a trip to South Africa for his 50th high school reunion. Picture: Rivka GottliebRivka (right), Michael and his granddaughter on a trip to South Africa for his 50th high school reunion. Picture: Rivka Gottlieb

He had rheumatoid arthritis and lymphoma – making him vulnerable to the virus – but which he had had successful treatment for.

On March 17, six days before the government announced lockdown, Michael’s employer told him to stop working as he was over 70 and they were a “bit worried”.

Five days later he came down with Covid-19 symptoms. NHS 111 told him to stay at home, so for nine days he “battled, sweated and coughed”.

Then, on March 31, as his father’s symptoms became even worse, Michael’s son, who wore a scarf around his face, visited his dad.

Finding his father in such a bad state, he called an ambulance, and with Michael’s oxygen levels having significantly depleted, he was taken to the Royal Free.

On April 3, Michael was put on a ventilator and two weeks later he died.

Family at Michael's and his wife Mili's 50th wedding anniversary in October 2018. Picture: Rivka GottliebFamily at Michael's and his wife Mili's 50th wedding anniversary in October 2018. Picture: Rivka Gottlieb

As part of a Jewish family, Shiva prayers – normally hosted at home – were held for Michael over Zoom, and with 300 people tuning in, Rivka described the lockdown mourning as “weird but amazing”.

At the same time as Michael suffered with Covid-19, his wife for 52 years, Mili, 74, also contracted the virus.

She spent a week in hospital in a “terrible” condition. When she returned home, she was so weak she had to crawl up the stairs.

While she has made a recovery, Rivka says her mother’s memory has worsened. “Nothing”, though, will bring her dad back.

Rivka said: “He’s an inspiration to me.

“He got up every morning, went off to work, played golf and chauffeured grandchildren around.

Michael and Mili with their youngest grandchild. Picture: Rivka GottliebMichael and Mili with their youngest grandchild. Picture: Rivka Gottlieb

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“He was very popular, people adored him. He always had a joke and a chat with everybody.

“He was the kind of person who would always learn new things.

“Dad taught Hebrew to children at our synagogue and he was very active in the community.

“He had lots of hobbies. As well as playing golf he did beautiful picture framing with an artist, and he was a photographer.

“He was really, really lovely.”

Michael with his family around the time of his and Mili's 50th wedding anniversary. Picture: Rivka GottliebMichael with his family around the time of his and Mili's 50th wedding anniversary. Picture: Rivka Gottlieb

Now, having lost her father to Covid-19, Rivka – alongside thousands of other families – is calling for an immediate public inquiry.

She wants answers over why lockdown, social distancing and the imposition of masks was “so late”, and whether earlier hospital admissions could have made a difference.

Rivka, who hasn’t been able to work as a music therapist since her dad died, says there is a lack of counselling and bereavement therapy available for grieving families.

“I want to fight in my father’s name for justice and I want to prevent more unnecessary deaths,” she said. “That’s why I want his story to be known.

“I want people to understand just how dangerous this virus is and how it doesn’t discriminate between young and old.

“For me it’s very much about my father’s legacy, partly as a warning to others but also, most importantly, to call for an immediate public inquiry so that lessons can be learned.

Rivka, a music therapist, hasn't been able to practice since losing her dad to Covid-19. Picture: Rivka GottliebRivka, a music therapist, hasn't been able to practice since losing her dad to Covid-19. Picture: Rivka Gottlieb

“The government’s actions and the reasons for their actions and the timing of them need to be looked at independently and fully.

“A proper public inquiry that looks into all the evidence and takes evidence from families is absolutely critical.

“The government has been saying look how well we’re doing instead of saying look we got this wrong, we’re looking at it and we’ll try and do better.

“There’s tens of thousands of families who are in this situation. There’s a massive need.”

On July 15, Boris Jonhson said there would be an independent inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic – but when, how and what it will look like remains unclear.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Every death caused by this pandemic is a tragedy and we know that behind the statistics are thousands of devastated lives and loved ones.

“The government has made it clear that there will be a time for an inquiry to reflect on lessons learnt, but the current focus is on the pandemic itself.”

To visit Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK and its petition to Whitehall click here.

READ MORE: Camden investigates disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME groups, while data shows Kentish Town and Gospel Oak hardest hit by virus deaths


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