Sunday, May 26, 2024
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Long Covid – a skivers’ charter?


FOR two whole years I managed to avoid catching Covid, even while in Wuhan when the pandemic was apparently well under way.

But after visiting the gym early last month I felt as if I had strained a few muscles. By the time I reached home I could barely walk. I went to bed and slept for 18 hours. The next day I slept for 11 hours and suffered pain, shivering and nausea.

My wife came down with the same symptoms and insisted I took a lateral flow test which I duly did. I was impressed by the speed with which the second line appeared on the test – instantly.

I did not lose my sense of taste but my special reserve Rioja tasted like something that had oozed from a compost heap and, far from losing my sense of smell, I became acutely aware of oranges if they were peeled. They smelled of Jeyes Fluid and I had to leave the room.

But all that has passed. There is now a considerable hole in the Rioja collection in the cellar and I don’t mind oranges being peeled. I continue to cough a lot, especially after running. But considering I turned in a good time in the recent Park Run, I guess I’ll live to fight another day. And I’ll continue not to share the national obsession with Long Covid. Nobody ever gives it its proper label, which is post-viral syndrome leading to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). If you are naïve enough, as I have been, to comment along the lines of ‘isn’t Long Covid just a form of post-viral syndrome?’ you are met with the blank stare that seems to be so prevalent among the Covid orthodox or with indignation because the person you are speaking to has either had it, got it or knows someone who has it. As if that settled the argument.

Google ‘Long Covid’ and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. In fact, you will be overwhelmed with hits. Spend some time investigating and you will find that almost anything which someone thinks they have following a bout of Covid is considered to be Long Covid. We live in a culture where what everyone says must be taken seriously, where subjective perception rules over objective evidence.

Thus, minor lingering effects of Covid including altered taste are considered Long Covid, my persistent cough undoubtedly falls into that category and so the list of symptoms grows and the number of people with Long Covid increases. Currently it is estimated that more than one million have Long Covid. The effects of this are manifold: the vaccine-obsessed have another rod with which to beat us; the bleating for precious NHS resources to be diverted towards caring for the prolonged miserable gets louder (a staggering £50million has already been allocated); and the Covid narrative is perpetuated (we may be over Covid but wait until Long Covid hits us . . . woo!) 

My experience of Covid reminded me of influenza, which I have had a few times. While influenza was much worse, nobody asked me about my symptoms following it and universities did not jump on the influenza bandwagon seeking funding for research into ‘Long Flu’. But they are this time. Something akin to the ‘Woozle Effect’ is much in evidence. Winnie-the-Pooh thought he was being chased by heffalumps and woozles as he ran round a tree and saw the footprints increasing – his own footprints. Thus, the medical profession and interested parties raise the Long Covid flag ever higher on the mast in the public square.

I don’t doubt ‘Long Covid’ exists in the form of ME/CFS specifically following Covid any more than I doubt Covid exists. But a sense of perspective seems to have been completely lost. Research which showed that half of adolescents who reported Long Covid symptoms had never had Covid did not make the impression it should have. Presumably it went against the narrative which dictates that all things Covid must be taken seriously and catastrophised. But studies suggesting that people who had no symptoms from their initial bout of Covid (how did they know they had it?) can later develop Long Covid are well publicised.

With the intense focus on Long Covid we are, essentially, writing a skivers’ charter which will be used by the indolent and the disillusioned to take a few days off ‘sick’ without question. Covid has already led to the attenuation of the system required to self-certificate for absence from work on the basis of illness. I don’t suppose we will return to a more rigorous system any time soon. The excessive amount of money we are spending on recovery from the extreme and in some cases ridiculous measures introduced during the pandemic will be added to by paying for the vast numbers of people who feel like a week in bed.

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Roger Watson
Roger Watson
Roger Watson is a Professor of Nursing.

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