A 34-year-old father who has spent nearly five months in hospital after he almost died with COVID has told of his “blind panic” after the virus left him “gasping for air” - and he is urging the government to be cautious over the lifting of all restrictions.
Graham Horsfall has been a patient at Warrington Hospital since 16 January after contracting coronavirus during the peak of the second wave, and is still barely able to walk.
The IT consultant, who has no known underlying health condition, spent more than four months in an intensive care unit (ICU) and was told by medics he had just a 16% chance of survival.
As the government considers whether to stick with its plan to remove all COVID restrictions on 21 June amid a rise in cases linked to the Indian (Delta) variant, Mr Horsfall has urged ministers to continue with some measures including rules on face masks.
“I think they should be cautious,” he told Sky News.
“I wouldn’t just go: ‘Right okay, back to normal.’
“They could pick and choose things that could be relaxed a bit more, but also keep an eye on it.
“I think masks are here to stay for a long time… and they should be really.
“You’re not going to get rid of (the virus). It is going to come back again as it evolves and mutates as a disease.”
Mr Horsfall has urged people to take coronavirus seriously after challenging COVID conspiracy theorists about their views online – including members of his own family.
“I’ve got family members on Facebook saying it’s all a conspiracy and a government plot to keep us all indoors and reset the economy,” he said.
“People are losing people day in a day out. It’s affecting people long-term. It affects everybody in different ways.
“I’ve seen people on Facebook saying: ‘No one I know has had it.’ I message them and say: ‘Well now you do.'”
Mr Horsfall, who has a five-year-old son called Ollie and six-year-old daughter named Lily, began isolating at home in January after a colleague contracted COVID.
Three days later, he began coughing before his condition deteriorated and he started to “gasp for air”.
His wife Emma called for an ambulance and he was rushed to Warrington Hospital, where he continues to be treated today.
“All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe,” Mr Horsfall said. “It was really scary.
“At that point, they told me they’re going to have to put me on a ventilator because I need more oxygen.
“I am in blind panic at this point. The last thing I remember doing before they put me under was transferring money to my wife because it wasn’t looking good.”
Mr Horsfall’s wife and children were isolating themselves so they could not accompany him to hospital.
After arriving at hospital, he says he was hooked up to a ventilator and sedated.
“Basically my breathing was being done for me by a machine. It’s the only thing that kept me alive,” Mr Horsfall said.
“It’s just full on fear. It’s the unknown. Am I going to come out of this or am I not?”
Mr Horsfall said he only regained consciousness again in mid-February but he was “dazed and confused” and his condition quickly deteriorated.
He was given a tracheotomy and had to be sedated again before he awoke to find he was “literally paralysed” after suffering from muscle atrophy, meaning his muscles had wasted away.
“I could move one arm,” Mr Horsfall said.
“I couldn’t move my other arm, I couldn’t move my legs, I couldn’t move my torso. I was literally paralysed.”
Mr Horsfall, who could not talk due to his tracheotomy pipe, said he initially thought he has having an hallucination when he woke up before he was handed his phone so he could text his wife.
He added: “One of the nurses turned around to me and basically said, based on the treatment I had…it had an 84% mortality rate – so 84% of people that had the same treatment as me, didn’t make it.
“It was a proper eye-opener.”
Mr Horsfall said seeing other COVID patients around him lose their lives was “harrowing”, including a man in his 20s who had recently become a father.
“You sit there thinking: ‘Bloody hell, it will literally take any age’,” he said.
“It’s not just taking the elderly, which people think.
“They would do their best to shield you from people passing away.
“Every time a curtain was shut, we knew someone had passed away on the ward. And that happened all the time.
“It’s harrowing for people. You make friends with people. Even though you couldn’t talk, you would give them a wave. And then all sudden that person’s gone.”
Mr Horsfall said his wife – who also caught the virus in January but only suffered mild symptoms – was unable to visit him when he first gained consciousness in mid-February due to the hospital’s COVID rules.
He added: “She was having to deal with the fact that she thought I was going to die while looking after our kids as well, which isn’t easy.
“She’s done amazing. Absolutely amazing. She’s doesn’t think she has, if you ask her, but she has – she’s done amazing.”
Mr Horsfall was only able to speak again after his tracheotomy pipe was removed on 12 March.
At that point, he was allowed to have one hour-long visit per week, with Mrs Horsfall required to wear full PPE and undergo temperature checks before seeing her husband.
However, Mr Horsfall had to wait until the start of May to see his children in person again when his daughter visited.
“That was emotional,” he said.
“It was a massive boost for me, mentally and physically, because it makes you push that bit harder. You take those extra couple of steps when you’re doing physio.”
Mr Horsfall said he was the last COVID patient on the ICU ward when he moved out on 25 May and he is now being treated on a respiratory ward.
He said his muscles had “rotted away” due to his lack of movement while in hospital and that he was now doing rehabilitation work and seeing a physio every day.
“I walk with a zimmer frame now, that’s how I get around,” Mr Horsfall said.
“Because of the COVID, probably the furthest I’ve gone without being out of breath is about 15 metres.
“Then you just get so breathless you have to sit down because your lungs are knackered due to COVID.
“There’s a lot of work to put in yet.”
Mr Horsfall does not know when he will be able to leave hospital but doctors believe he should be able to make a full recovery due to his age.
They are now considering whether he will be able to continue his recuperation at home in the future or in a rehabilitation centre.
“I’ve been here long enough,” Mr Horsfall said.
“I just want to be home to see my kids.”
He recently had his first COVID jab “to be on the safe side” because he fears he would not survive catching the virus again.
The health secretary says the Indian variant has made the decision about whether to lift lockdown restrictions on 21 June “more difficult” due to its higher rate of transmission.
Matt Hancock told Sky News the Delta variant was 40% more transmissible than the Kent (Alpha) strain, leaving the easing of social distancing in the balance for the original target date.
Ministers are “drawing up other options” before a decision is made on the 21 June easing, a government official told Sky News.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt considering further public spending cut to boost tax giveaway in budget
Jeremy Hunt is considering a last minute further cut to public spending to boost the tax giveaway in Wednesday’s budget.
The Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, out now, set out how Number 10 and 11 have spent recent days finding as many different ways of raising future revenue as possible to increase the size of Wednesday’s tax cuts.
National insurance could be cut by 2p again in the budget if the chancellor succeeds in finding the right mix of revenue raising measures and spending cuts.
Currently spending is due to rise 1% above inflation after next year. However, if this was cut to 0.75% above inflation, that would raise £5-6bn.
The chancellor would hope to resist questions about where he would cut, saying he is doing an efficiency drive and decisions would be outlined at a future spending review post election.
The decision on whether to cut future spending was live in the Treasury as recently as Friday, and this morning the chancellor was arguing about the importance of finding efficiencies.
This is likely to boost Labour’s charge that the government is “maxing out the credit card” to keep its own supporters on side.
However, most Tories in government believe this is a necessary trade-off to allow the party to go into the next election presenting themselves as the low-tax party.
Some senior Tories disagree, however, worrying that the public is more worried about the state of public services than tax cuts.
The budget is likely to have cuts or the abolition of non-dom status, which could raise £2-3bn, plus other small loopholes closing generating a few hundred million in revenue.
The Politics At Jack And Sam’s Podcast also reveals how delaying Contaminated Blood compensation payouts has helped deliver tax cuts.
In January, the Treasury was worried those payments might reduce the amount the chancellor could spend before he reached the borrowing limits from his fiscal rules.
However, the inquiry will not report until later and the government is resisting calls for interim payouts.
Christian Horner ‘absolutely’ expects to remain in charge after claims of inappropriate behaviour
Red Bull boss Christian Horner has said he “absolutely” expects to remain in charge for next week’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The team principal told Sky Sports F1 that Red Bull is a “very strong team” after reigning world champion Max Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Perez came first and second in Saturday’s Bahrain Grand Prix – the first race of the season.
He said: “We have got tremendous support, tremendous partners and great shareholders behind us as well.
“You don’t achieve this kind of result by not being united.”
Horner was asked if he expects to still be in charge in Jeddah after a tumultuous week to which he replied: “Yes, absolutely. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
The 50-year-old watched the podium ceremony with his wife, former Spice Girl Geri Horner, after hundreds of WhatsApp messages reported to have been part of Red Bull’s recent probe were leaked.
Horner has always denied the claims.
The couple, who married in 2015, walked hand-in-hand and shared a kiss at the Grand Prix but Horner later admitted the past few days had “not been pleasant”.
“I have the support of an incredible family, an incredible wife, an incredible team and everybody within that team,” he said.
“And my focus is going racing, winning racing and doing the best I can.
“It was a day about starting the season in the best possible way. My focus is on this team, my family, my wife and racing.”
Earlier, Formula One world champion Max Verstappen suggested his boss is “probably a little bit distracted” following the reports.
Asked about the leaked messages after he took pole position in qualifying on Saturday, Verstappen said: “It’s not our business.
“When I look at how Christian operates within the team, he has been an incredible team boss, so absolutely from the performance side of things, you can’t even question that.
“So that’s what I am also dealing with. I speak to Christian a lot, and also of course throughout the weekend here he is fully committed to the team.
“He’s also here for the performance, of course probably a little bit distracted, but like I said before, we just focus on the performance things and that’s how we all work together.”
The messages were leaked to numerous media organisations and F1 team principals from an anonymous email account, but have not been confirmed as genuine.
Horner subsequently released a statement, saying: “I won’t comment on anonymous speculation but to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations.
“I respected the integrity of the independent investigation and fully co-operated with it every step of the way.
“It was a thorough and fair investigation conducted by an independent specialist barrister and it has concluded dismissing the complaint made. I remain fully focused on the start of the season.”
Ahead of this weekend’s race, president of the FIA, Mohammed ben Sulayem said any complaint lodged with its compliance officer would be investigated but it had not received one relating to Horner’s situation and would not “jump the gun”, according to the Financial Times.
“It’s damaging the sport,” ben Sulayem told the newspaper. “This is damaging on a human level.”
Horner had been questioned for eight hours by a lawyer on 9 February.
Red Bull confirms grievance dismissed
In a statement, Red Bull said: “The independent investigation into the allegations made against Mr Horner is complete, and Red Bull can confirm that the grievance has been dismissed.
“The complainant has a right of appeal. Red Bull is confident that the investigation has been fair, rigorous and impartial.
“The investigation report is confidential and contains the private information of the parties and third parties who assisted in the investigation, and therefore we will not be commenting further out of respect for all concerned.
“Red Bull will continue striving to meet the highest workplace standards.”
Read more from Sky News:
FIFA president rules out use of blue cards
Top women’s clubs approve £20m Premier League loan
Horner has said his wife has been “very supportive” during the process. He also revealed he had been “overwhelmed” by messages of goodwill from within the sport.
He has been Red Bull team principal since they entered Formula One 19 years ago and is the longest-serving boss on the grid.
During that period he has overseen the team win seven drivers’ world championships and six constructors’ titles.
Chancellor tempers tax cut expectations as £800m tech package to free up public service workers’ time revealed
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has tempered expectations of tax cuts in Wednesday’s budget as he announced an £800m package of technology reforms designed to free up time for frontline public sector workers.
As part of Treasury reforms, police will use drones to assess incidents such as traffic collisions and artificial intelligence will be deployed to cut MRI scan times by a third.
The department said the changes have the potential to deliver £1.8bn worth of benefits to public sector productivity by 2029.
Follow latest: PM rails against ‘extremist forces’
In a statement, the chancellor said: “We shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking more spending buys us better public services.
“There is too much waste in the system and we want public servants to get back to doing what matters most: teaching our children, keeping us safe and treating us when we’re sick.
“That’s why our plan is about reaping the rewards of productivity, from faster access to MRIs for patients to hundreds of thousands of police hours freed up to attend burglaries or incidents of domestic abuse.”
Darren Jones, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said the announcement amounted to “spin without substance”.
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt told The Sunday Telegraph that he “won’t take any risks” after previous speculation he may cut income tax.
The newspaper said the chancellor is due to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday evening to make a final decision on whether a 2p cut is affordable.
Mr Hunt said that bringing down the current tax burden is a “long path” and that the financial forecasts setting out how much so-called “headroom” he has to meet his fiscal rules had “gone against us”.
According to The Sunday Times, the Office for Budget Responsibility told the chancellor on Wednesday that he has £12.8bn of headroom to play with – more than £2bn less than the figure the Treasury is said to have previously been basing its calculations on.
Mr Hunt is under pressure to deliver tax cuts in what could be the last economic set piece from the Conservative government before the next general election.
The tax burden is reaching record levels, with it expected to rise to its highest point since the Second World War before the end of this decade as the country looks to pay back heavy borrowing used for support during COVID-19 and the energy spike in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
No 10 and No 11 are said to be weighing up if it is possible to administer such a cut or whether to reduce national insurance contributions further, having sliced it by two percentage points in the autumn statement.
The cut in November did not reduce taxation for pensioners – a key voter demographic for the Tories – as they do not pay national insurance.
Mr Hunt is said to be preparing to raise £300m by changing the preferential tax regime for holiday lets in the budget.
Another £500m may be raised by introducing a levy on vapes.
He also is thought to be considering abolishing the non-dom status as a potential way of raising revenue.
Non-domiciled status allows foreign nationals who live in the UK, but are officially domiciled overseas, to avoid paying UK tax on their overseas income or capital gains.
Mr Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty has previously enjoyed non-dom status.
Watch Jeremy Hunt appear on Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips on Sky News from 8.30am.
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