LONDON: The family of a respected British-Pakistani general physician (GP) in Essex confirmed his death on Friday in what was said to be the first coronavirus-related death of a doctor in the United Kingdom.

The family of Dr Habib Zaidi, a 76-year-old GP, said he died while being treated for what was probably coronavirus. Dr Zaidi passed away at the intensive care unit of Essex’s Southend Hospital just 24 hours after he fell ill on Tuesday.

He was tested for Covid-19 but died in hospital before the outcome of the test was known.

His daughter Dr Sarah Zaidi, who too is a GP, said he showed “textbook symptoms” of the virus. She told the BBC: “He was treated as a definitive case. There is little clinical doubt it is coronavirus, the test result is academic.”

“For that to be the thing that took him is too much to bear. It is reflective of his sacrifice. He had a vocational attitude to service,” his daughter added.

The family expressed regret that the deceased doctor would not be given a proper funeral as the United Kingdom is under lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. At present, the UK has 11,658 confirmed cases of coronavirus and has reported 578 deaths.

Dr Habib Zaidi worked as a GP in Leigh-on-Sea for more than 45 years. He was a managing partner of Eastwood Group Practice with his wife Dr Talat Zaidi. Their four children are also medical professionals, with their son working as a haematologist consultant in London and daughters working as a trainee surgeon, a dentist and a GP.

In a statement, the family described Dr Zaidi as a beloved pillar of his community. “He was also devoted in the most altruistic way to the service of his patients and a local community, serving three generations of tens of thousands of families living in the town of Southend for 49 years.”

The statement added that a colleague described him as “the father of the medical community”.

At the quality awards ceremony held by the National Health Service in 2018, Dr Zaidi was given the ‘unsung hero’ award in recognition of his services.

As news of his death circulated, many of his patients expressed heartfelt condolences on social media. “I recall his friendly manner and also how attentive he was when he suspected I had appendicitis, coming to visit me at home and calling an ambulance there and then,” wrote one patient, who recall­­ed seeing him 20 years ago.

Funerals during coronavirus

In view of the coronavirus, UK guidelines say that funerals should continue as normally as possible. However, families are being asked to consider restricting attendance to ‘close family members’ only to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus to attendees and staff involved in the ceremony.

Therefore, it is no longer appropriate to hold a gathering after the ceremony at any venue, including the family home.

To the relief of many in the Muslim community here, the British government agreed to amend an earlier coronavirus emergency bill that called for mandatory cremations instead of burials.

The amendment means that those from Muslim, Jewish and other faiths will not be cremated should they die from Covid-19.

The development came after various communities protested against cremation and said the bill would allow local authorities to cremate bodies without the consent of the families of the deceased.

Labour MP Naz Shah, who is the shadow women and equalities minister, led the campaign to change the bill in order to respect the sentiments of faith groups. Ms Shah submitted an amendment, backed by 100 MPs, to the coronavirus bill, to exempt those from faith backgrounds from automatically being cremated if they die after contracting coronavirus. The government accepted the amendment.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2020