Why Carrie Symonds and mums-to-be need our sympathy more than ever – Jayne Dowle

IF you want to know how coronavirus can completely turn a world upside down, spare a thought for the Prime Minister’s fiancée Carrie Symonds.

Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, his pregnant patner, before both were struck down by Covid-19.

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Coronavirus: A mother’s pride at the response of our young people – Jayne Dowle

One minute, the smart and sassy 32-year-old charity communications advisor was living in 10 Downing Street preparing for the birth of her first child in early summer.

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The next, she finds herself having to leave in a hurry and flee across the river to her own flat in Camberwell, alone and heavily-pregnant, to self-isolate. Can you imagine anything more horrific? Please don’t write in and tell me that I have become soft.

A man carries flowers to the door of 10 Downing Street, the official London residence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is in intensive care at St Thomas' hospital as his coronavirus symptoms persist.

Whatever your political affiliations or views of the couple’s relationship, you would have to be made of stone not to care.

Expectant mothers are at high risk of contracting Covid-19 because pregnancy can compromise the immune system, making it more vulnerable to attack. Also, there have been cases recorded of babies being born with the virus.

Stuck in self-isolation, poor Carrie then developed relatively mild symptoms of the illness herself and was sick in bed for a week; meanwhile, her fiancé was pole-axed and forced into isolation in Downing Street.

And just when it looked as if things couldn’t get worse, Mr Johnson, 55, ended up on oxygen in intensive care in a London hospital.

Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds at a Six Nations game before the Covid-19 crisis developed.

A first pregnancy is overwhelming and scary enough without all this. However, this is an extremely anxious time for all expectant mothers.

I have a friend in her early 40s about to have her second child at any moment. She’s been self-isolating for several weeks now with her partner. Her son who is in his 20s – he’s recently become a father himself – is doing their shopping and errands. He leaves parcels on the garden wall and beats a reluctant retreat. He can’t see his mother. She can’t see her first grandson.

And she’s in the house, torn between excitement and delight at the late blessing she’s about to welcome into the world, and terror at the thought of going into hospital to deliver her precious daughter (it’s a girl).

The Royal College of Midwives is warning of a frightening shortage of staff on NHS maternity units; one in five midwifery posts are unfilled and a fifth of maternity units have been closed during the coronavirus crisis to free up space and resources.

Like Ms Symonds, my friend had talked about having a home birth. There’s absolutely no chance of that now, unless she goes into labour spontaneously and the ambulance service can’t reach her in time. She and her partner are trying very hard not to think about that particular scenario. Let’s just say that they aren’t getting much sleep, and that’s before the baby comes into this strange new world we are all living in.

And what about all those babies who have recently arrived safe and well? And their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and wider family members? Our local postmistress became a grandmother just five weeks ago. We regular customers followed the progress of her daughter’s pregnancy with eager anticipation; now we feel incredibly sad that coronavirus has ripped her delight away.

Little Oscar had barely opened his eyes before the shutters came down on the world; now the only way his grandma can see his first smile is through the photographs she proudly shares with customers on her phone (keeping a safe distance, of course) and Facebook page.

She is by no means the only grandparent in this awful situation. We have a cousin whose first granddaughter was born in December. She hasn’t seen little Amelia since the beginning of March. When the lockdown was announced, she and her husband were abroad on holiday. They managed to return to England before the airline grounded flights, but the anxiety of the journey home has only been compounded by the distance she must now keep between her daughter and granddaughter.

You might argue that at least these babies are safe and being cared for. There are countless other vulnerable children who will be suffering from the most appalling levels of neglect in homes which are not loving, or kind.

Child neglect and abuse will be harder to spot when families are self-isolating and not coming into regular contact with social services, family doctors and nursery staff. This is the hidden tragedy we must not forget.

If you want to know how coronavirus is turning all our worlds upside down, please spare a thought for every family – and every child – in the land.

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