I’ve just held my wife’s hand for the first time in a year: MLA tells of Covid agony

A former health minister has spoken about the heartache wrought by the coronavirus lockdown exactly one year ago today, shortly after his first visit to his wife in 12 months.
Grace and Jim Wells, pictured at Christmas 2018Grace and Jim Wells, pictured at Christmas 2018
Grace and Jim Wells, pictured at Christmas 2018

On the Sunday just gone, Jim Wells held his bride Grace’s hand for the first time since the pandemic forced them apart.

She is 62, has suffered strokes, and has been in a nursing home since suffering strokes in 2015.

Their separation is one of the consequences of the lockdown – which began in earnest with Boris Johnson’s fateful address to the nation on March 23, 2020 – one year ago today.

On that day, Prime Minister Mr Johnson had told the nation: “From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.” The occasion is to be marked today at noon and at 8pm.

Prior to Sunday, Mr Wells had previously been allowed to see his wife Grace – but only twice, only for 20 minutes each time, while clad in PPE, sitting two metres apart, separated by a screen (he doesn’t really count these as proper visits).

At other times he was forced to brave rain and wind, standing outside the Banbridge care home to try and converse with her through a closed window.

Concerning Mr Johnson’s address to the nation last March, the DUP MLA told the News Letter: “I remember that so well. For the next 365 days I was locked out of Bannview Nursing Home – me, and about 20,000 relatives of other people in care homes.

“I got in on Sunday for the first time. What a relief that was, I can tell you! I brought her in her lunch, we linked up with the rest of the family on Zoom, we talked to her three children and five grandchildren.

“What a change that was. It shows real hope and light at the end of the tunnel, that eventually this awful situation is beginning to change.”

It was “the first time I’ve held Grace’s hand in 367 days” (they had last been together two days before the March 23 lockdown).

His hour-long visit on Sunday came after a Covid test he did on Thursday threw up a negative result, and after Grace had been given both jabs of the Pfizer vaccine. He nonetheless had to wear a mask, apron, face shield, and gloves.

“But you are left alone, thank heavens, with your wife,” he said. “It took a toll on the family; much more on her. Whilst Grace physically hasn’t deteriorated at all during the lockdown, we are worried about her mental health.”

Nevertheless, he added: “What’s absolutely crucial about this is it was a step forward in the right direction. It offers hope from what was a very miserable situation.

“When Boris made that speech a year ago – with the famous line ‘many of you will go before your time’ – nobody expected this would be a year later. We all thought this would be over by the summer.

“It’s been an awful, long year. Coming back from that window, on a dark winter’s night, in the rain, was a very unpleasant experience.”

Looking back on Covid-19’s arrival:

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Alistair Bushe