Covid-19 has been recorded on the death certificates of more than 5.4 million people worldwide since the pandemic began two years ago.
As countries brace for further waves of infections driven by the Omicron variant, the families of 14 people who lost their lives tell of incalculable loss as they pay tribute to their loved ones.
Ruth Lopes Rodrigues, 80, and Rosemeire Lopes Rodrigues Bortolin, 54, Brazil
Ruth Lopes Rodrigues, 80, and her daughter Rosemeire Lopes Rodrigues Bortolin, 54, lived in São Paulo and died 15 days apart in early 2021.
Rodrigues was hospitalised on 13 December 2020 after she fell and broke her femur. Bortolin decided to visit her mother in hospital on 29 January because she missed her so much.
“Rose was so afraid of getting Covid, but she felt she had to visit her mom,” her cousin Liliane Bacci, 52, said. “She got emotional when she saw her mother and kissed her, even though she had been really careful throughout the pandemic and wore a mask everywhere.”
The next day, on 30 December, Rodrigues was diagnosed with Covid-19. She deteriorated rapidly and was intubated two days later. Bortolin was hospitalised with Covid on 6 January.
Rodrigues died on 18 January, a day after her 80th birthday, which she shared with her daughter, who turned 54. Bortolin was intubated on 21 January, and died on 2 February.
“They were two women carrying their family, and now they’re gone,” Bacci said. “Rose was like a sister to me. I miss them so much. If it hadn’t been for my aunt’s fall, I think both of them would be alive now.”
Oduetse Ratshipa, 41, Botswana
Dr Oduetse ‘Odie’ Ratshipa was born in Serowe on 23 June 1980. He studied medicine at St George’s University, Grenada, and graduated in 2010. He then returned to Botswana to work for the Ministry of Health and Wellness in the capital, Gaborone, for 11 years, later specialising in disease surveillance and outbreaks.
In 2014, he had a lung transplant after being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The transplant left him vulnerable but he was determined to continue his work.
During the pandemic, Ratshipa was working on the rollout of the vaccine and caught Covid after his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“It’s a blow to have lost someone so young,” said his father-in-law, Peter Smith. “He was the bravest man I ever met.”
Ratshipa loved playing chess and supported Chelsea football club. He died aged 41 on 7 August 2021, and is survived by his wife, Thato, and two sons Jason and James.
Saeid Azari, 67, Iran
Saeid Azari, 67, was a businessman and philanthropist who lived in Tehran with his wife, while his two daughters were living in Canada.
Azari died in hospital on 14 July 2020, 10 days after becoming ill with Covid. His family said his transfer to intensive care was delayed because of a shortage of beds.
Covid restrictions meant his family was unable to hold the kind of memorial service they would have wanted, and said goodbye to him at a small funeral with strict social distancing in place. Azari’s younger daughter watched via video call from Canada.
It was only after his death that his family discovered he had been sponsoring the studies of two orphans for years.
Azari’s eldest daughter, Neda, 39, last saw her father in September 2019, when he hugged her goodbye at the airport after visiting her in Canada. She said: “He was a source of inspiration for my mother, my sister and I. He always had a sweet smile on his face and he encouraged us to pursue our dreams. He was a man who gave his daughters wings to fly. We love him so much and he is missed terribly, his death has completely changed our lives.”
Jean Hodgson, 82, UK
Jean Hodgson, 82, lived her whole life in Manchester, where she ran a successful bakery and a fish and chip shop. She raised her three sons as a single mother while maintaining both businesses before marrying her husband, Jim, who died in 2012 from asbestosis after years working as a labourer.
In February 2020, she had a heart attack and went into a care home, shortly before the pandemic properly began. She was supposed to stay there temporarily, as she wanted to live by herself with some assistance. But she contracted Covid and died on 8 August 2020.
“The care home advised us that this was the safest place for her, which was obviously wrong,” her granddaughter Alexandra Hastie, 26, said. “I saw her five days before she died, and she was so happy, but we only saw her through the glass. We didn’t get the chance to say goodbye properly.
“The extent of her warmth on others was clearly shown on the day of her funeral when the entire street came out to say their goodbyes and the amount of people that turned up outside the church. I have never known an 82-year-old as popular as my Nana Jean! Her favourite sandwich was cow tongue and ready salted crisps – the most disgusting combination I have ever seen but would give anything to see her enjoy once more.”
Andrey Schelkonogov, 60, Russia
Andrey Schelkonogov, 60, a father of two and grandfather of three, lived in the Moscow region and was an engineer at a state-owned infrastructure company, a job he loved.
His family believe he caught Covid either at work or on public transport. He was hospitalised on 18 October 2020. When Schelkonogov died on 5 November 2020, just three weeks before his 61st birthday, it was a huge shock to the family.
“He was a big football fan and incredibly healthy and strong prior to his infection, we thought he would recover and come home after perhaps one week,” his daughter Julia, 36, said.
That his coffin had to be closed during his funeral was also difficult for his family. “It was a huge disappointment that we were not allowed to see his face one last time,” she said.
“My daughter was just three weeks old when he died. I had sent him photos of her while he was in hospital, as we couldn’t visit him, it was prohibited. He loved his grandchildren so much.”
Şenol Yaşar, 55, Turkey
“I’ve lost my rock and now he’s no longer there,” said Deniz Aslan of her 55-year-old father, Şenol Yaşar.
Yaşar, who was born on 12 February 1965 in Istanbul, worked in real estate and had three children. He is thought to have caught Covid while dining in a restaurant after the reopening of businesses and public spaces in June 2020.
His family said he started off with flu-like symptoms and was hospitalised at a time when Turkey was recording some of its highest daily death figures of the pandemic. He was in intensive care for nearly three weeks before dying on 22 November 2020.
“I couldn’t hold his hand and say the words which I desperately needed to say before it was too late,” said Aslan.
Alberto Lema, 83, and Pedro ‘Toto’ Gallegos, 76, Argentina
Juana Lema’s grandfathers Alberto Lema, 83, and Pedro ‘Toto’ Gallegos, 76, died from Covid in Buenos Aires on 9 April and 1 June 2021 respectively.
Born on 14 September 1938, Alberto Lema was president of General Motors for Argentina and Latin America in the electro-motive division. He was hospitalised for two weeks before dying.
Gallegos was born on 9 June 1945 and worked as a private driver. He always tried to make people laugh and had a “very unique personality”, said his granddaughter. His family believes he caught Covid when he had to renew his driving ID. He was put on a ventilator and given a tracheotomy two weeks after being hospitalised. He was released a fortnight later and spent less than 24 hours in a recovery centre before having a stroke due to Covid.
Juana Lema said: “We were burying Alberto when we were told Pedro had to go into hospital with Covid. It’s been really hard as I’ve never lost anyone close to me.”
Mosharef Hossain, 81, Bangladesh
Born in Noakhali on 9 January 1940, Mosharef Hossain worked for the Pakistani embassy in Islamabad, as a cypher assistant for years. He moved to the UK in 1971 before returning to Bangladesh in 2005 where he founded a school a year later.
He caught Covid at the beginning of April 2021 and was hospitalised for 21 days. He was discharged and went home to where his wife lives in Dhaka to recover for a few weeks, but died on 22 June at the age of 81.
His granddaughter Sabah Hussain said it had been three years since she last saw him: “We were really close when he lived in the UK and we thought it was a miracle when he recovered from Covid. His death came as a really big shock.”
Bagila Zhakypbayeva, 81, Kazakhstan
Bagila Zhakypbayeva, 81, from Almaty, was born on 13 April 1940 and worked in administration before retiring. She liked making beautiful patchworks and singing.
She lived with her daughter and stayed at home for most of the pandemic. However, both of them tested positive after Zhakypbayeva started feeling unwell. She was in hospital for 10 days and spent her last three days in intensive care. She asked to be taken home to die but died on 28 August 2021.
“She was on her own and couldn’t be with the people who loved her,” said her granddaughter Nellya Serikova. “She sacrificed a lot of things for my sister and I when we were kids. We were so close.”
Rimon George Sultanian, 76, Jordan
Rimon George Sultanian, 76, worked as a decorator and in construction in Amman before he retired.
He was an orphaned refugee from Palestine and lived alone initially when he came to Jordan. He went on to have four children and six grandchildren.
Sultanian contracted Covid in October 2020 and died in hospital on 10 December 2020.
“My dad worked really, really hard all his life, even after his retirement, and sacrificed a lot for his family, so we could have the education and lifestyle he wanted us to have,” his daughter Armen, 33, a sales manager, said. “He had a difficult life but he always managed to not let us feel it.”
Sultanian loved reading books, especially crime novels by Agatha Christie. “He would walk two times a week to book stores and a library and return with many books,” Armen said. “My dad was everything to us.”
Gianpiero ‘Nonno’ Carlo Luigi Albertini, 89, UK
Gianpiero “Nonno” Carlo Luigi Albertini was born in London on 13 July 1930 to Italian parents who had moved from Italy after the first world war. He had three sisters and lived in Surrey. He served in the British army for two years and returned to his profession as a lawyer before retiring.
“I have many happy memories of my nonno [grandfather in Italian],” said his granddaughter Isabel. “Like him giving us a bath when we were little and cleaning our feet by instructing: ‘One footy up’. He was a gentleman and a gentle man, always kind and polite to everyone regardless of who they were.”
Albertini initially went in to be treated for kidney failure and had started to improve when he tested positive for Covid. He died four days later on 19 May 2020 at East Surrey hospital. He was 89.
Albertini is survived by his four children and 10 grandchildren.
Andrew Daly, 93, Ireland
Andrew “Andy” Daly, 93, was a greyhound breeder, owner and trainer from County Westmeath who was born on 20 November 1926.
He settled in England after a career with the British army that involved time in Germany and Hong Kong. He took part in changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and reportedly enjoyed drinks with Prince Phillip.
After leaving the army he returned to Ireland in the 1970s and became a gun dog breeder and sold his dogs all over Europe and showed at Crufts.
His granddaughter Claire Daly said he had an “incredible and eventful life and was much loved and respected by everyone he met and is much missed by us all”.
In his later years he lived in a nursing home and suffered regularly from pneumonia. He contracted Covid early in the pandemic and died on 1 April 2020.