A SYRIAN refugee, who is risking his life on the virus front line as a hospital cleaner, forced the government into an abrupt U-turn last night.
Hassan Akkad urged Boris Johnson in an emotional video message not to throw his family out of the country if he dies from Covid-19.
His appeal got more than 1.1million views on Twitter.
And home secretary Priti Patel later announced an extension to a scheme that offers indefinite leave to remain to the families of doctors and nurses killed by the disease.
It will now apply to all NHS support staff, including cleaners and porters, as well as to social care workers. Mr Akkad worked as a teacher in Syria but fled after being jailed and tortured for joining protests against the regime.
He almost drowned en route to Britain and later won a Bafta for a documentary about his 87-day journey.
The 32-year-old signed up to work as a minimum-wage cleaner at Whipps Cross hospital in east London because he wanted to help in the virus crisis.
And he told the prime minister, who survived Covid-19 after treatment in intensive care, that he was appalled when he found out non-medical staff were not included in the scheme. ‘I’ve been really enjoying the clapping you and your fellow ministers do every week — today, however, I felt betrayed, stabbed in the back,’ he said.
‘If I die fighting coronavirus, my partner isn’t allowed indefinite leave to remain — this is your way of saying thank you to us.
‘I’m sending you this message hoping you will reconsider because I did see a humble Boris after you were discharged from hospital, I saw a different Boris.
‘Us migrants are on the front line doing this very demanding job to help this nation overcome this pandemic and the least you can do if we die is give our families indefinite leave to remain.’
Ms Patel announced last night: ‘Every death in this crisis is a tragedy, and sadly some NHS support staff and social care workers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of saving the lives of others.
‘When I announced the introduction of the bereavement scheme in April, I said we would continue to work across government to look at ways to offer further support.
‘Today we are extending the scheme to NHS support staff and social care workers. We want to ensure families have the support they need and so this will be effective immediately and retrospectively.’
Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said it was a U-turn and porters, cleaners and carers ‘should never have been excluded from the scheme in the first place’.
He urged the government to also make NHS and care staff exempt from paying to use the health service.
All adult migrants from outside the European Economic Area face a £400 a year surcharge whether or not they require any treatment.
Mr Thomas-Symonds declared: ‘The government has to change its stance on charging NHS and care staff from overseas to use our NHS. This hypocrisy must end.’
The surcharge will rise to £624 in October and parents will also be expected to fork out £470 a year for each dependent child.
But when Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called in the Commons for NHS staff to be exempt, Mr Johnson said: ‘We must look at the realities.’
He said the NHS ‘needs funding and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900million, and it’s very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources’.
Filmmaker Mr Akkad, who is engaged to Farah Haddad, took the cleaning job after reading that the virus had been found on a cruise ship 17 days after the passengers had left. ‘I figured out the NHS urgently needed cleaners because it survives on surfaces,’ he said.
Before Ms Patel’s announcement, the culture secretary Oliver Dowden said at the Downing Street briefing the bereavement scheme was being kept ‘under review’. Alongside him was NHS England’s Prof Stephen Powis, who said: ‘There are many, many heroes in the NHS, not just doctors and nurses.’