Stephen Hawking's family donate his ventilator to the NHS

Hawking was a lifelong advocate of the United Kingdom's public health system.

    Stephen Hawking lived with motor neurone disease from the age of 21 until his death, aged 76, in 2018. He credited the National Health Service with saving his life many times [File photo: 2016/Lucas Jackson/Reuters]
    Stephen Hawking lived with motor neurone disease from the age of 21 until his death, aged 76, in 2018. He credited the National Health Service with saving his life many times [File photo: 2016/Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

    The family of acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking has donated his ventilator to a National Health Service hospital that had treated him in Cambridge, the English university city where he lived and worked, to help care for coronavirus patients.

    The scientist died in March 2018 at age 76 after a lifetime spent probing the origins of the universe. He was diagnosed with a rare early-onset form of motor neurone disease at the age of 21. He was a lifelong advocate of the NHS, lambasting ministers who sought to cut or privatise its services.

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    "Professor Stephen Hawking's family has donated his ventilator to Royal Papworth Hospital as we care for increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients," the hospital said on Wednesday.

    The United Kingdom's government has faced criticism over its procurement of medical ventilators since it emerged the country had not been involved in a European Union-wide bulk-buy scheme. 

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    There were 763 new coronavirus deaths reported on Wednesday, taking the total number of those who have died in hospital after having contracted the virus to 18,100. The true death toll, including those who have died in nursing homes and at home, is expected to be many thousands higher than has been officially reported so far. 

    The mathematician's daughter, Lucy Hawking, described the care her father had received at the Royal Papworth as "brilliant, dedicated and compassionate", it said.

    "We'd like to say a huge thank you to the Hawking family for supporting us at this challenging time," said the hospital, which is a world-leading centre for heart and lung transplants.

    The medical equipment was bought by Hawking himself, the BBC reported, and, after checks, had been added to the hospital's inventory.

    Lockdown continues

    Restrictions on everyday life in Britain to slow the spread of the virus are likely to be needed for the "next calendar year", due to the time needed to develop and roll out vaccines or find a cure, the country's top medic said on Wednesday.

    Growing concerns about children's mental health in UK [2:59]

    Britain is in the fifth week of a lockdown that only allows people to leave home for essential work, food shopping, exercise and limited other reasons.

    The government said last Thursday the full restrictions would remain in place for at least another three weeks, and its chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, said on Wednesday that some forms of social distancing would be needed for much longer.

    Normal life will only return once an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is available, Whitty said at the government's daily news conference.

    "Until we have those - and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small, and I think we should be realistic about that - we're going to have to rely on other social measures," he said.

    The UK reported its highest daily hospital death toll on April 9, when coronavirus fatalities peaked at 980, and since then the number of hospital deaths reported each day has oscillated between 449 and 917.

    Whitty said the descent in new cases and deaths was likely to be slow, given the experience of other European countries.

    "If people are hoping that it's suddenly going to move from where we are now, in lockdown, suddenly into 'everything's gone', that is a wholly unrealistic expectation," he said.

    "We're going to have to do a lot of things for really quite a long period of time." 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies