The death of a 13-year-old boy from Covid-19 shows the virus is “indiscriminate” and should be taken seriously by people of all ages, a minister has said.
Robert Jenrick, the housing and communities secretary, said news that two teenagers with no apparent underlying health problems had died of the disease in the UK was “sobering”.
His family said they were ”completely devastated” by the loss of the “gentle and kind” teenager, and urged people to “listen to government guidance” and “do everything you can to adhere to social distancing”.
“Covid-19 is a virus that is attacking all members of our society, not just older people or those with pre-exisiting conditions,” they added.
NHS England had earlier confirmed the death of 19-year-old Luca Di Nicola, an Italian chef living in the capital, who had had no existing medical problems before contracting Covid-19.
Mr Jenrick told the BBC’s Breakfast: “Every death is a tragedy, but two young people dying is even more sobering. It does remind us all that this is a virus that’s indiscriminate.
”It doesn’t just affect the elderly, or those who are extremely vulnerable because of their pre-existing conditions, although those people do need to take particular care.”
He said some young people had previously “felt almost invincible”, pointing to “scenes a couple of weeks ago of young people out enjoying themselves when we first started to implement some of the social distancing measures”.
“I think now everybody in the country understands and appreciates the seriousness of the situation,” Mr Jenrick added.
Ismail was admitted to King’s College Hospital on Friday after showing symptoms of coronavirus and suffering breathing difficulties. He tested positive for the disease and was put on a ventilator and later into an induced coma, but died in the early hours of Monday morning.
Family friend Mark Stephenson said: “To our knowledge he had no underlying health conditions. We are beyond devastated.”
The boy’s mother and six siblings are now awaiting the results of a post-mortem examination.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, they said: “We are heartbroken as family due to the devastation caused by the coronavirus as it becomes too real for us as a family and community.”
Ismail’s family described him as a “loving son, brother, nephew to our family and a friend to the many people who knew him”, adding: “His smile was heartwarming and he was always gentle and kind.”
Mr Stephenson, director of a Brixton college where Ismail’s sister works, has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral costs and for the family, who also lost Ismail’s father to cancer. By the early hours of Wednesday more than £55,000 had been raised, far exceeding the £4,000 target.
“One of the saddest things in this whole situation is that he died alone,” Mr Stephenson told Good Morning Britain.
“As you know, when someone has got this infection they’re in isolation. So how difficult it is for a mum not to be able to be with her son at this time when he’s sick. Usually a mum will be at the bedside.”
Florence Eshalomi, the Labour MP for Vauxhall, said she had spoken to Ismail’s family to offer her condolences following his “heartbreaking” death.
She added: “Ismail was a bright and ambitious boy who had the whole of his future ahead of him. This disease does not discriminate. And this personal tragedy shows the very real and devastating impact this virus is having on our society.
“We must follow the advice to stay at home and save lives.”
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at University of Reading, said: “Any premature death is tragic news, but the death of any child is particularly sad and the first death of a child in the UK following a positive test for Covid-19 is particularly significant.
“The lesson from countries such as China is that while the old are much more likely to die from coronavirus infection, the young are certainly not immune from it.”
Di Nicola’s family, from Nereto in eastern Italy, have said he was “very healthy” but had been suffering a cough and a fever for a week before his death.
The teenager’s aunt told Italian newspaper La Repubblica a GP had dismissed the symptoms as “bad flu”.
He was taken by ambulance to North Middlesex Hospital in north London after collapsing last Tuesday but died shortly after arriving at A&E.
Dr Julian Tang, associate professor of respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, said: “Tragically we are going to see some cases of otherwise healthy individuals dying from Covid-19, as the infection and disease progresses.
“Covid-19 is mostly immune-mediated, which means that disease in the body results from the activity of the immune system, so young healthy people with good immune systems can also end up with severe disease.”
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