Why almost nowhere else in the UK is suffering from coronavirus as much as Birmingham

For most of Birnham Roberts’ life the rhythm of his day was set by the bus schedule.

He was a long-serving driver on the number 16 in Birmingham, where many of his regular passengers would recognise his face and a good few would greet him by his name as they boarded.

After his retirement, he kept a routine with regular Tai Chi and swimming classes, but inevitably his family was forced to think about what they would do if he became ill.

His daughter, Cherelle, made him a promise: “I will be there to look after you, I will be that person.”

She had already discussed with her brother how they would juggle their shifts at work to care for him between them if he ever needed close attention.

Cherelle, an agency nurse, would use her expertise from the hospital wards, if required.

The two siblings had imagined a slow decline at home.

“We just thought he would pass away from old age and we planned to be there for him,” Cherelle told ITV News.

A week of memorials and celebrations would follow with relatives from the Caribbean and the United States flying in to join this family in Birmingham for the funeral service.

Last Wednesday Birnham Roberts was buried in front of a small gathering of loved ones.

But last Wednesday, Birnham was buried in front of a few loved ones, some wearing protective face masks and standing at a distance from the other mourners.

His relatives abroad had to make do with viewing the videos and pictures afterwards.

There was no funeral service and no wake.

Birnham died on March 18, nine days after he was taken into hospital.

And because of his infection, his relatives were not allowed to visit him for a final embrace.

“I just wasn’t with him when he passed,” says Cherelle.

“That’s something that was really upsetting to me because I wanted to be there.

"But we did what we could and just tried to adhere to the hospital regulations.”

Cherelle says returning to work has kept her busy, and helped her meet others experiencing the same as her.

Without a funeral to organise and relatives to host, life seems to carry on sooner than it might have for the families of some Covid-19 victims.

Yet death from this virus, under these circumstances, brings a specific form of augmented heartache for those left behind.

For Cherelle there is barely time to grieve.

She will soon return to work on the hospital wards of Birmingham where evidence of the human cost of the virus which took her father’s life is everywhere.

Her experience in this city is not unique.

Birnham is one of several hundred people in the city who died after contracting coronavirus.

In the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust alone, 460 people have died who tested positive for Covid-19, 40% more deaths than at any other.

  • Work continues at a makeshift mortuary set up in a mosque in south Birmingham:

At a makeshift mortuary set up by one mosque in south Birmingham, funeral directors told ITV News they were running out of caskets for Covid-19 patients, meaning the burials of some victims of the virus might be delayed.

Burial should take place as soon as possible under Islamic tradition.

  • Funeral directors are warning of a lack of caskets to bury the dead:

“We’ve never seen anything like it not just in my short time as mayor but since the war,” says Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, who believes many people in his region only wised up to the threat from coronavirus when lockdown measures were introduced three weeks ago.

“It was a little bit like something that happened to other people, perhaps not here but in London.”

Pockets of poverty and overcrowding appear to have exacerbated the outbreak in Birmingham.

And the virus has spread in some neighbourhoods with the highest proportions of so-called "multigenerational households" where young people and elderly people share homes.

  • A charity supplying food parcels to the poor says it is making as many as 40 times the deliveries it usually provides:

“What I think has happened is that before the lockdown occurred a number of clusters got established because of those features and we’ve seen them sadly come to maturity as we’ve gone through the lockdown,” Mr Street said.

An NHS Nightingale Hospital has been built at the National Exhibition Centre on the outskirts of the city.

Its halls, which normally host exhibitions and shows like Crufts, will be used to provide care for victims from across the region.

No part of Britain has escaped the pandemic - but almost nowhere else is suffering as much as Birmingham.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know