My dad was dying alone in hospital while I obeyed Covid-19 lockdown rules

‘The government failed my father.’
Covid19 My Dad Was Dying In Hospital While I Obeyed Lockdown Rules

Safiah Ngah (29) lost her dad, Dr Zahari Awang Ngah, to Covid-19 in February 2021. He was only 68 years old. A psychotherapist, Dr Ngah had worked in the NHS for nearly 40 years. He was a Malaysian national who settled and raised his family in North London. Here, Safiah shares her story about coping with grief during the pandemic.

“Dad was a very considered person,” Safiah tells GLAMOUR. “He was quiet. If you told him about a problem you had, he would say, ‘Okay’, and go away and think about it. Then he'd come back, maybe a couple of hours later, with this nugget of wisdom. 

"I always knew he'd really thought about it and put his feet in my shoes. He so wanted the best for me, my brother and my mum. He cared deeply about us.”

Dr Ngah was a caring man.  He treated refugees and asylum seekers in his spare time, and after he retired, he started a project to improve access to psychotherapy in Malaysia, Southeast Asia and India. 

“He loved his work,” Safiah says. “He was so passionate about what he did. “He felt that it was important that people from all areas of society have access to mental healthcare, the best possible."

He was still working on this project the week before he was taken to the hospital.

“As a Malaysian national, he gave so much to this country, and I feel like the government has failed him, as it has many people,” Safiah says. “I'm deeply, deeply sorry and regretful that I couldn't be with him. It adds insult to unimaginable injury when you consider what the government has been doing during those lockdowns.”

Safiah is, of course, referring to the widespread public outrage following revelations that government staff, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, attended a garden party at the height of lockdown – while members of the public were obeying the rules and making enormous sacrifices. 

Safiah Ngah

Safiah and her brother moved home before Boris Johnson announced the Christmas lockdown in 2020. After a trip to the supermarket, the two of them contracted Covid-19. Although they tried to isolate, their dad caught it too. 

“He was okay for the first week," explains Safiah. "Then one night he found that he couldn't breathe while he was sleeping,” Safiah says. The next day, he coughed up blood, and doctors recommended he go into hospital. He was stable in the intensive care unit for about a week, then intubated for five days. He passed away on 7 February 2021.

“I feel so guilty that I couldn't be there,” Safiah says. “We had a couple of video calls with him while he was in the hospital, and on one of the calls, he said: ‘Things I’ve seen nobody should have to see.’" We so desperately wanted to be with him. No one should ever have to experience what he went through on their own. 

She continued, “He'd never really been in hospital before, so I can only imagine how terrifying it was to be put to sleep in that way and not know whether you're going to wake up. He put on such a brave face, right to the very end of his life.”

After her dad died, Safiah went down to the National Covid Memorial Wall and drew a heart for him. While she was there, she met someone from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice and offered to do interviews about her father's life. 

Safiah Ngah

“I found it to be incredibly cathartic,” she says. “The thing with losing someone to Covid is that it's obviously incredibly personal and painful. But Covid is also everyone’s shared experience over the past two years, to a greater or lesser extent. 

“Dad did a lot for this country and the NHS. His heart was in the right place. He was a good person, and talking about him is a way of remembering him.”

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice is now campaigning for an immediate inquiry with a rapid review phase into how the government handled the pandemic. 

Hannah Brady, a spokesperson for the campaign who also lost her dad to Covid-19, said: “The Prime Minister's lies have finally caught up with him. Not content with kicking bereaved families like mine in the teeth by breaking the rules he set and then lying to us about it, he's now taking the British public for fools by pretending he ‘didn’t know it was a party.'”

Hannah continued, “The Prime Minister has broken his own rules and if he had any decency he would now resign, rather than hide behind an internal ‘inquiry’. If he doesn’t, his MPs should remove him. They have a moral duty to do so."

Safiah Ngah

Safiah plans to spend the first anniversary of her dad’s death with her mum and brother. The family might visit his grave, but Safiah doesn’t really like going. 

“Dad was buried at a Muslim cemetery in Essex,” she says. “At his funeral I could see that they'd had to open up a completely new section to deal with the number of bodies coming in. To me it looked like a war grave: it was literally just mounds with wood sticking out to mark where the graves were. 

"Covid has disproportionately affected minority ethnic groups, and seeing the cemetery was a stark reminder of how much Covid affected Dad’s community.”

Understandably, Safiah's grief is still very raw.

“There's no easy way to explain to colleagues why some days feel worse than others for me, especially coming up to the anniversary,” she says. “He was the person that I’d go to for advice. Being a psychotherapist, he would have been an incredibly useful person to have around at the moment.

Safiah Ngah

“It's very difficult to lose somebody in your life who you're so close to, who is also such a core part of how you operate,” she adds. “He loved me so much, and I loved him so much. They say that grief is love with nowhere to go and I definitely do feel that because it just comes out in tears.”

To sign the petition for an immediate inquiry, visit, and to find out more about Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice visit their website. 

If you’ve been bereaved during the pandemic, you can speak to trained volunteers at Cruse via their helpline (0808 808 1677).