Covid-19 is a nightmare for most– but a business opportunity for others | UK news


I’ve never much liked the person I am. Anxiety and depression are still my default settings, even after decades of therapy, and I find it hard to hold on to any good feelings. It’s like constantly watching joy slip through my fingers. But I like still less the person I have become during the coronavirus pandemic because now I view even friends as a possible source of disease and infection. I long to hug and be hugged but I have become overly protective of my personal space and get irritable if any runner gets within 5 metres of me. The only place I really feel safe now is my bedroom.

Nor does it help that on a daily basis it becomes more evident that there is no clear plan for navigating our way through the crisis. Ministers are flying blind and the country has effectively been orphaned by the government. One of the less reported side-effects of the pandemic has been the way No 10 has sent out a string of no-mark ministers to do the morning media round, all of whose prime brief appears to have been to know as little as possible about anything. This week we’ve had Oliver Dowden, Simon Clarke, Helen Whately and Brandon Lewis all failing to answerbasic questions. You’d have thought that if you knew you were going to face the media, you’d bother to learn some key facts, such as the number of NHS staff and care home workers who had died, but they couldn’t even manage that. And it’s not as if it was hard to find the answers, as they were all featured in many newspapers’ double page spreads.

Equally astonishing has been the rehabilitation of Piers Morgan. After several years of sucking up to Donald Trump, refusing to take anyone with mental health issues seriously and insisting that those who dared to criticise Brexit whining remoaners, he has become the nation’s mouthpiece on Good Morning Britain by asking the tough questions and vocalising many people’s anger at the government’s failures. These really must be extraordinary times.


The end of each season’s University Challenge feels like a personal loss. I’ve watched every episode without fail for decades now and am sad enough to keep a tally of my own score each week. I award myself one point for each correct answer – regardless whether it is a starter or bonus question – and disappear into a shame spiral if I score less than 10.

This year’s final promised to be a straight showdown between Imperial’s Brandon and Corpus Christi’s Wang, but in the end it was no contest, with Brandon cruising to victory. About 10 years ago I was able to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition by appearing on one of the Christmas special series and learned the hard way that it’s far more testing in real life than from the comfort of the sofa. It’s not just knowing the answer but being quick enough on the buzzer.

During my outing for Exeter against Glasgow, me and the rest of our team went into a blind panic when we realised we were trailing by about 110 points to 20 at the halfway stage. Not just because we didn’t know all the answers but because we couldn’t remember them quickly enough. There was one member of the Glasgow team who was beating us near-single-handedly because he was so much faster to react. So I made a decision that the only way to avoid total humiliation was to start pressing the buzzer even if I was only halfway sure of the answer because then at least we were in with a chance. It proved a mixed blessing as I got some answers embarrassingly wrong – my kids are gutted they haven’t been able to find the episode on YouTube – but we did at least claw our way up to 120 and only lost by about 40. Never again.


It was amazing how difficult parliament found it to adapt to new technology, given that most small businesses and family groups who had never heard of Zoom a month ago can now schedule meetings at will. After a dry run on Tuesday, the House of Commons finally returned to the new normal with an almost empty chamber for prime minister’s questions and a ministerial statement from Matt Hancock.

Weirdly the quiet of the chamber seemed to suit Keir Starmer, a QC who is totally at home in a courtroom drama, and he managed to make Dominic Raab look like a struggling pupil barrister. Even the technology by and large held up, though David Mundell couldn’t log in and Peter Bone got cut off near the end. Straight afterwards there were a few conspiracy theories running that Bone had been cut off because he was questioning the conduct of the banks during the pandemic. I rather think the bosses of Barclay’s, Lloyd’s and HSBC have got better things to do than order their IT departments to silence the Bone. It’s far more likely the Bone silenced himself by accidentally pressing the mute button.

Much weirder was the presence of Jeremy Corbyn in the chamber, given that he is over 70 and therefore officially classed in the vulnerable category. His question to Matt Hancock could just as easily have been asked by Zoom. Even more bizarrely, Corbyn was later spotted by one of my more happy-go-lucky colleagues, who is still brave enough to go into work, pulling up a chair from a table that had been deliberately kept apart from neighbouring ones to sit and have lunch with a friend. It seems like the guidance on self-isolation hasn’t yet filtered down to everyone.

Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons,

Jeremy Corbyn: ‘I still think I won the argument’ Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA


There are some calls you don’t want to get. I was sitting in the garden having lunch with my wife when my phone rang from a number I didn’t recognise. But I took it anyway. “Am I speaking to Mr Crace?” asked the caller. Yes, she was. “Good, then I was wondering, given your age whether you had given any thought to a full, pre-paid funeral plan.”

My first reaction was that this must be a wind-up from a friend and I asked her to repeat what she had just said to check I hadn’t misheard. I hadn’t. This woman was extremely anxious that I might die in the next few weeks and leave no money to pay for my funeral. At which point, I rather lost it. “Are you seriously ringing me up in the middle of a coronavirus crisis to try and flog me a funeral insurance policy?” I said. “Because right now that’s the last thing I want to think about as I’m rather hoping to survive.”

My wife snapped at me, saying I shouldn’t be so rude and that the woman was only reading off a call centre script. If so, the script could do with some fine-tuning, because far from apologising for interrupting my lunch and adding to my morbid ruminations, she doubled down. “The reason I am calling you now is precisely because of coronavirus,” she said. “There has never been a better time for people of your age to get their affairs in order. At which point I invited her to try upsetting someone else and hung up.

Covid-19 might be most people’s nightmare, but it’s clearly a business opportunity for some others. In just a few weeks we’ve moved on from ambulance chasers to hearse chasers. I can feel the cold breath of death on my shoulder.


The weekends used to be a highlight of the week; a time to relax and spend time with friends and family. Now I have come to rather dread them. I prefer the tempo of a working day when I try to keep track of the latest ministerial promises and disasters for the sketch. Saturdays and Sundays now just feel like days with no structure, 16 hours in which I know I have a few key tasks – going for a bike ride, doing a bit of housework, making lunch – to complete, but all of which feel like they could be done at any other time. As a result my anxiety is often worse at weekends as there is more down time into which my fear can expand.

Still, I am still just about managing to keep the weekends a news-free zone. Though I do read the papers, I try to avoid bulletins on the radio and TV. Apart from anything else, they are bad for my blood pressure. How the government can even be contemplating sticking to its decision to end Brexit transition on 31 December when it has no idea of how bad the coronavirus epidemic will be or its effect on the economy is beyond me. Even a 12-year-old must be able to see it’s dim-witted; unless of course you are hoping to blame some of the worst impacts of Brexit on the coronavirus.

But I did promise to try and end with some upbeat thoughts. So here they are. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of people emailing to ask me if I’m OK and for the unexpected gifts given to me by friends both new and old. Humanity is back in fashion. I’ve also been listening to YouTube clips of singers whose performances I will now miss.

This week’s recommendation is the exquisite Asmik Grigorian singing the Moon Song from Dvorak’s Rusalka. She will both break your heart and mend it.

Finally, a shout out to my banana plants. Normally they are still wrapped in their fleeces at this time of year; in the warm weather they have taken matters into their own hands and have grown so much, a few have discarded their fleeces by themselves. I need some more of the bananas’ fighting spirit.

Digested week, digested: Capacity to test: 51,000. Actual tests: 23,000

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