My family came to the country when I was five years old, but my dad has always been in Iran. The older I got, the closer we became. We spoke and used FaceTime regularly. Being at a distance made us feel closer, because we made more of an effort to speak enough to each other.
When I first pitched the idea of running as an MP, he was surprised. He thought I was quite young and that it was too early in my career. But he was very supportive and I think he was quite proud that I had come from being an immigrant in the country at five to running for MP at 23.
My dad started getting a temperature around the 18th of March, then a cough and difficulty breathing. He tested positive for coronavirus around mid-March, was put on a ventilator and died about two days later. It was a very rapid progression – it probably took 12 days between him first getting a temperature and passing away.
My mum got sick very soon after that as well. We think she contracted coronavirus five or six days after my dad died, and she got quite sick – sick enough to get worried because of what had just happened with my dad. She had all the symptoms, but it never got severe enough to need to go to the hospital and get tested. As soon as she started to develop a cough – because of what happened to my dad – we isolated her. She recovered about ten days later.
She was in isolation, so we're not quite sure how she caught it. But my dad caught it from someone who is relatively young and was asymptomatic. It’s one of the messages I was trying to get out to the public early on. At the beginning of the disease, there wasn't as much awareness or conversation happening about how asymptomatic people can pass on the virus.
I know two or three people whose parents, or one of their parents, have passed away from coronavirus. I think a lot of the young people in particular feel like they're not at risk, or they feel financial pressure because the government has, in my opinion, not done enough to ease the financial burdens and anxieties people have – so they're forced to go back to work early. They might not only contract it themselves, but they become carriers.
When I think about the stats that suggest BAME people are more likely to catch the virus, it's not particularly surprising. I think research needs to be done on the scientific or medical element as to why BAME people might be more likely to contract it, but there's also a social answer to it: BAME people are much more likely to be in precarious work, they're much more likely to live in poverty, be from a lower-income family, not have savings, and therefore are more likely to need to go back to work earlier, and are therefore at more risk of contracting the virus.
When Boris is saying “if you can go to work, go to work”, the message he's sending is for every person who doesn't know where their next paycheque is coming from and doesn't have enough savings to get them through the economic difficulty the coronavirus has caused. They're getting on trains and buses.
BAME people are much more likely to be in that group because we know that statistically, they are, again, much more likely to be in precarious work, in the low-income bracket and to work in the public sector. It's a real failure of leadership from the government. In many ways, coronavirus highlights the gross inequalities of our society and has brought them to the forefront in a more in-your-face way.
One of the most difficult bits of this is knowing my family is now part of those statistics. It's very, very hard for many of us. The government will release daily figures or numbers of people that have died, but behind every one of those numbers is a family, friends and loved ones who are having to mourn in extremely difficult circumstances.
Even in the UK, people can't hold ordinary funerals or the religious ceremonies that are necessary for them. By the time my dad got sick, we were in lockdown, so none of our family could travel out to see him. We couldn't go to the funeral, we couldn't bury him. None of us could meet as a family, because we were all in isolation too. There were three people at his funeral.
It's very tough for my family because we have personally felt that tragedy. We know that our community is in an at-risk group because of a failure of leadership by Boris Johnson's government but also through the gross inequality that again – in my opinion – the Conservative government have allowed and perpetuated for so many years. In many ways, we're still in it – we're still in the heart of the pandemic.
It's important to remember there are many lives still at stake. When we're criticising the government and shouting about some of the failures, and the vaguenesses of their messaging and communication strategy, it's not party politics. It's that millions of lives are on the line. The ONS figures have said 148,000 have contracted coronavirus between 27th April and 10th May alone.
For people like me who are part of politics, it's nothing to do with wanting to win or trying to bring down a Tory government – it is to hold the government to account and to make sure the actions they take save the lives of millions of people. I think things would have been very very different, particularly if I had beaten Boris. We'd be in a very different world – but we're not there right now. The most important thing for us to act in the national interest in protecting the lives of people.
My dad very much shaped my worldview. He was very soft-spoken, very keen on education, keen for me to go to school. He was very supportive when I got involved in politics, and would regularly remind me to make sure my intentions were serving people rather than anything else. In those ways, he and I were quite similar. He probably had more to do with shaping me as a person than anyone else in my life.
We used to play noughts and crosses and sit on the roof of where he worked in Iran, where he owned a little taxi service. Later on, when we saw each other, we played pool in whatever country we were. I'm happy to report that I never won a game. I'm only finding out now that he's passed away how much he did for folks. He kept it private. He would sponsor people's medicine and food because the economy was difficult in Iran.
In many ways I guess I still haven't fully processed what's happened because it moved so quickly. All of the normal things you're supposed to do when someone dies (i.e. religious ceremonies, the wake, all that kind of stuff) you don't go through. It doesn't feel real – it feels like you're in a film. When lockdown lifts, I may be able to process it better. But for the most part, right now, my worry is making sure that thousands if not millions of other families don't go through what we went through. Once you go through it yourself, you really don't want other families to go through it.