In September 2020, I tested positive for Covid. Like many young people, I assumed that I’d have cold and flu symptoms for a few days but would swiftly recover. I never stopped to consider the long-term effects Covid might have on me. I didn’t have any pre-existing health conditions, nor was I hospitalised, so long-Covid barely crossed my mind. After my period of self-isolation was finished, I began to feel better, but this trajectory of recovery soon hit a plateau, then took a dive once more.
For around nine months, I could manage maybe five hours out of bed a day. If it was laundry day, laundry was the one thing that’d get done. Every little task required a one to two-hour recovery. By December, I was seriously considering dropping out. I could just about comprehend the content of my online lectures, but the fatigue and brain fog were severely affecting my ability to comprehend assigned reading.
Future goals I had became just another part of my life plan, rather than abstract impossibilities.
My experience is just one of many instances where a seemingly mild case of Covid can cause numerous long-term health issues including chronic fatigue. An estimated 1.8 million people living in the UK who’ve contracted Covid continue to experience symptoms for long periods after their original infection. The true gravity of long-Covid was made apparent to me when I inquired about the process to be seen by a long-Covid clinic. By this time it was early 2021, and I was told the waiting list was 6 months long.
Luckily, once Covid vaccines became widely available, I began to hear stories of long-Covid sufferers finding that it alleviated symptoms of fatigue and brain fog somewhat. At this point, I was due to be entering the final year of my undergraduate degree, so I was really counting on the vaccine to help my symptoms. Luckily, it did, and I managed to complete my degree, and start my postgraduate study. Future goals I had became just another part of my life plan, rather than abstract impossibilities.
Nevertheless, it still angers me when I hear the term post-Covid. As much as our government may try and squash the issue, we are still very much in the midst of the pandemic, and will be for the foreseeable future. Though awareness has been raised about the potential for mild cases of Covid to lead to long-term health issues, it is even more important to open up the floor of discussion to those who are especially vulnerable. Throughout the pandemic, through to the present day, disabled and immunocompromised people have largely suffered in silence. Disabled people accounted for 59% of Covid deaths as of 2021, yet the systematic erasure of disabled and immunocompromised people in the healthcare debate continues.
Ableism in healthcare became especially apparent in the first wave of the virus, pre-vaccine. Ventilator shortages forced a divisive debate on whose lives were more valuable. As expected of a historically ableist healthcare system, able-bodied people were prioritised when it came to receiving Covid treatment in hospitals. The term ‘underlying health condition’ has been used to denote those who are more at risk of severe illness and death from Covid, and though there is some overlap, the small print makes little reference to disability. This has pushed issues of major disability risk factors into the background of pandemic discourse, which has proven to be detrimental to the lives of disabled and immunocompromised people.
Whether or not the virus persists as an imminent threat to life, it will continue to affect our own lives.
This ableism has persisted even into the so-called ‘post-Covid’ era. Medical advice for disabled or immunocompromised people is simply to shield from the public as much as possible, but what does this say about how our government values these people’s quality of life? The lack of support for disabled and immunocompromised people in the pandemic only serves to reflect the long-standing lack of support and funding for services aimed at enhancing the health and quality of life of those vulnerable to serious illness.
Even able-bodied people who were only mildly affected by Covid have begun to experience sudden ‘unexplained’ health issues. At this point in the pandemic, we’re beginning to hear of seemingly healthy people under 30 dying of heart attacks. As well as onset respiratory illness after recovering from Covid, many have experienced neurological after-effects. There have been reports of people experiencing seizures for the first time in their lives after what appeared to be a full recovery from Covid, and the risk of a stroke post-infection is greatly increased in people of all ages.
On a macro scale, how will our society change long-term because of the pandemic? Changes that were already taking place pre-pandemic have been vastly accelerated, such as the introduction of a hybrid work week. As well as lockdowns’ impact on work, it’s important to consider how long-Covid in particular will impact productivity. The Financial Times wrote that workers are losing approximately £1.5bn a month as a result of chronic illness, and that long-Covid is set to have a lasting impact on the UK’s economy. It is the job of company bosses to ensure that the people whose working lives have been disrupted by long-Covid are given adequate support and the opportunity for a more flexible style of work. These implementations must have longevity, as many young people affected by Covid who have yet to enter the workforce will need to have these options available to them.
To me, it’s apparent that we’ll never truly exist in a post-Covid era. The era of Covid-19 denotes a new age of thinking. This change is present in how we think about crises, work, health, experts, the value of the public sector, and more. Whether or not the virus persists as an imminent threat to life, it will continue to affect our own lives. Though vaccines are available and restrictions are lifted, the world will never return to its pre-Covid state. We are only just starting to become wise to the true extent of Covids long-term effects, and it’s imperative that we continue to take the pandemic seriously.