Everyone shouts about vaccines, Omicron and death rates, but there are up to 2m Brits struggling to be heard, says Fleet Street Fox
You can, of course, rely on your immune system to protect you.
You can take vitamin D, get plenty of exercise, maintain a positive state of mind, and confidently expect Covid-19 to whoosh right past you in search of someone who is frail, old, and past their dead-by date already.
You can convince yourself that vaccines are the problem, that it’s no more than a heavy cold, and the wearing of masks or being asked to show proof of your disease-free status is an imposition on your right to do whatever the hell you like regardless of the impact it has on others.
It’s easy to do all that. But it’s a lot harder to be healthy and dynamic one day, disabled the next, and then forgotten entirely.
I first met Antony Loveless in 2014 at the launch of a book he wrote with Eric Carter, a WW2 Spitfire pilot. Publication was marked with a do at the RAF Club in London. It was attended by top brass, Dermot O’Leary gave a speech and wrote the foreword, and Ant was buzzing around the room with a champagne glass in one hand, as happy as a dog with two tails.
When I spoke to him on a Zoom call last month, he was gaunt, frail, and after an hour was losing the ability to speak clearly and fluently.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s the brain fog.”
“Ant,” I replied, “I had brain fog when I was pregnant. I left my scarf on a train, forgot what I was saying. It passed. Your brain’s got a much bigger problem.”
He almost cried. “Thank you,” he said. “No-one’s ever said that. No-one gets it, and we’ve lost the ability to express ourselves.”
Long Covid is a syndrome of complaints that can be attributed to a viral onslaught. Ant has stopped producing the white blood cells that fight a bacterial infection. He’s sustained damage to his body’s automatic system of controlling blood pressure, so has frequent falls. Claire has migraines, nausea, nerve damage, and a recent scare about the possible return of an old cancer. Their immune systems, which were all they had to fight Covid with, have been utterly ravaged.
Mentally they’re also struggling. “Our personalities have completely changed. Ant has lost his confidence, I’m constantly irritable. Our world has shrunk to just two rooms,” said Claire.
Like everyone with a disability, they feel invisible. A trip to the shops is a struggle, and people brush around them without thought. Both have been almost knocked to the ground by those who saw them as a slow-moving obstruction, rather than people who needed some extra time and space.
For a war correspondent and a health worker, who not long ago could diagnose and mend the world around them, riding high in helicopters and the estimation of others, it has been a short, and hard, fall to the bottom of the heap. And it is not helped by the world focusing on the dead, and people who obsess over their right to ignore the virus and its consequences.
There are 10 times more people with Long Covid in the UK than have died with the virus, yet these figures aren’t announced daily on the 6 o’clock news. There are new drugs being approved to help those on ICU wards, but not enough being done to understand the cause or cure for the likes of Ant and Claire.
We have mapped and understood the genome of Covid-19, created microscopically-tailored vaccines to fight it, but remain befuddled by our own bodies’ reaction to the disease. And there’s no excuse, because post-infection, multi-system syndromes are common after viral infections, and were seen after flu epidemics in 1889 and 1918.
Billions of pounds have been found to save the lives of the healthy, but less is available to improve those of the sick, especially those society chooses not to see.
Some people are recovering from Long Covid, with rehabilitation to improve their energy levels. Some relapse. Ant and Claire are better today than they were a few months ago, but doubt they’ll ever be as they once were. One thing that’s given them hope is starting a blog, www.longcoviddiary.com, detailing their struggles and victories, compiling research, and building a community of Long Covidians who can help each other.
A massive part of recovery from any illness or trauma is recognition of others. The social worker who told Ant he was “just a bit tired” and didn’t merit home care set him back, and the regular airing of idiotic opinions from anti-vaxxers claiming to be victims sends them into a tailspin of fury.
Ant and Claire caught Covid 2 months before they qualified for the vaccine. They had their jabs as soon as they could. They’ll have their boosters, too. They hope it will help.
The selfish should remember they’ll be paying for the healthcare and benefits of people like Ant and Claire for decades to come. And those who think the virus hurts only the sick and ill should think about the fact that, of 20,000 adults who tested positive in the UK, 14% went on to develop Long Covid.
It’s most common in women, and the middle-aged. Almost 10% of children aged 2 – 11 who’ve had symptoms had them for more than 5 weeks and, as anti-vaxxers are fond of saying, we don’t know the long-term effects.
You CAN rely on your natural immune system, but Ant and Claire prove that your immune system is relying on YOU .
That means wearing a mask, washing your hands, opening a window, getting vaccinated, and not being an idiot at Christmas parties. Only the virus would complain that those things are a restriction, rather than a safety measure no different to wearing a seatbelt. After all, no matter how safely your drive, some idiot can always crash into you.
And remember: if everyone was vaccinated, we wouldn’t need Plan B.