My coronavirus chronicle

Twelve months to the day since the UK went into lockdown, Miranda Levy recalls an extraordinary year.

My year (and a bit) of Covid started and ended with a fever spike…

In between – like the rest of us – I have survived what must surely turn out to be the weirdest 12 months of our lifetimes. But this year had an extra kick for me. As a journalist who often writes about health, I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been a goldmine for material.

Today, one year since Boris announced lockdown, I thought it might be interesting to look back.

I almost certainly had Covid in early 2020. I wasn’t tested at the time – no-one outside the Far East was talking about coronavirus then, let alone giving us PCR tests – but on January 18th, I found myself standing in a JFK immigrations queue for two hours. All around me were flights from Shanghai and Seoul. I remember rolling my eyes at the customised face masks that most of my fellow passengers were wearing.

Seventy-two hours later, my boyfriend and I came down with a ‘weird virus’ that accompanied us on holiday to Central America. Fever, headache, sore throat, mild cough. Though my symptoms had abated by the time I came home two weeks later, the exhaustion stayed with me for a month and I was on paracetamol 24/7.

The Covid storm started to swell internationally during the following weeks, but I didn’t take it that seriously to begin with. At the start of March last year, would anyone honestly expect that ‘lockdown’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘support bubble’ would become natural discourse and we’d be commanded to our homes, where we’d sit for a year on a spectrum between terror and boredom, separated from our family, friends and livelihoods?

So blasé was I, that in mid-March I snuck into New York under the wire for a final weekend. While my American boyfriend was panicking that Broadway theatres were going dark and restaurants were closing their doors, I was – quite frankly – irritated at everyone’s ‘over-reaction’. I wrote this piece about my trip, which led a critical reader to brand me as an ‘international waste of space’, a moniker I now proudly wear on my social media profile.

But by the time we were driving to the airport, and the city was shutting down in our wake, I knew this was very serious indeed. I was pretty lucky to get one of the last flights home on March 17th, turning myself inside out in an effort not to cough on the underground for fear I’d be deemed contagious.

Over the next few weeks, it really hit home how terrible this crisis was turning out to be. From the point of view of the doctors, for sure, but especially from people who had serious Covid. This devastating interview with a woman who barely survived, haunts me still.

To my great honour, I became something of a Covid correspondent, mainly – but not only – for the Daily Telegraph. Out and about on an ‘allowed’ trip to see my kids, the newsdesk sent me to doorstep the Wembley IKEA where NHS workers were being turned away for tests. This was my first – and no means last – foray out into the world, muffled and steamed up by a face-mask.

I wrote about the Essex ‘beauty emergency’ of not having access to hairdressers and nail bars, in this particularly groomed part of the UK, as well as crazy dreams, nostalgia and mental health.

As the spring progressed, I became more convinced that my illness back in January had been the Big One. The first morning that a Harley Street doctor began offering antibody tests, I barged in and got one.

Forty-eight hours later I was pretty gutted to receive a negative result. However, newer science suggests that my antibodies may have retreated into my cellular ‘memory’ only to resurface nine months later, prompted by my Oxford AstraZeneca vaccination. And those little warriors known as T cells might have fought off my coronavirus infection instead.

Amid the worry and the gloom, there some was fun to be had. I poked fun at Boris’s ‘army of Covid-secure marshals’ and laughed with the musical troupe who hired a boat to get back to the UK before a new lockdown in August. But there were also serious conversations to be had with anti-vaxxers.

The turn of the year also saw me contributing to the Telegraph Review of 2020 (Plenty of Twenty, thanks).

But despite the many false dawns, premature re-openings and new variants, there were some green shoots in 2021. Most exciting of all was the promise of the vaccinations – Pfizer, Moderna and our very own AstraZeneca – and it was a pleasure to interview Jack Sommers on his journey as an Oxford trial volunteer.

Writing about this extraordinary year was all very well, but I wanted to give something back, to contribute to the War Effort. Back in spring 2020 I had shopped for some neighbours and in February this year I started to volunteer at a vaccination clinic in north London. WOOOO! goes my virtue signal! And my reward was to muscle in (sorry) for an early AstraZeneca jab – one of three left over at the end of my shift.

My two-week reaction of fever, headaches and tiredness, was pretty consistent with the fact I’d almost certainly had coronavirus a year before. By the way, here’s my piece on vaccine side-effects (of relevance to everyone, I would say).

And now, one year on, here we are. Reading back over the above is exhausting. What a shattering 12 months it’s been for all of us. Anxiety, bereavement, financial worries, job losses, far too much banana bread, a surfeit of Joe Wicks and a lot of crap on Netflix.

Cheers then, everyone, to a roaring, bouncing, back-on-our feet Twenties. F. Scott Fitzgerald will have nothing on us!

But there’s just one major problem – what the hell am I going to write about next year?

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Miranda Levy

Miranda Levy is a journalist and author of more than 25 years’ experience. Starting out on magazines including Cosmopolitan and New Woman (RIP), Miranda then hacked it at the Daily Mail and Sunday Mirror before heading back to glossies and the launches of GLAMOUR and Grazia. She had two babies, wrote the Rough Guide to Babies in 2006, and became editor of Mother & Baby, where she was twice nominated for a British Society of Magazine Editors award. Now a freelance writer, Miranda covers many topics - but particularly health – mainly for the Daily Telegraph. She has written for many titles including the Spectator, the Jewish Chronicle and the New York Post. Miranda’s new book, The Insomnia Diaries: How I Learned To Sleep Again, is out on June 10th.

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