The long Covid tail

What’s the long-term impact of Covid on our health? It’s way too early to tell and there are so many other factors playing a part.

Tired women at work


The bit between Christmas and New Year is traditionally a period where germs seem to do their worst. That means many people end up delaying their return to work. On top of that next Monday is labelled ‘Blue Monday’ due to post-Christmas blues – it’s cold, no-one has any money [except the rich] and it seems like a long time until the summer. This year feels more depressing than most as there doesn’t seem to be much good news around and many families are really finding it hard with the cost of living crisis. Flooding and the lowering of temperatures when many can’t afford the heating will make this a more miserable period – and possibly a deadly one for some – than most.

A lot of the people seem to have had a chest infection over the winter which appears to be very difficult to shift. Absence rates at schools and at work are up. Are we less resistant to illness since Covid? Are the illnesses we are getting more debilitating? Are we just less resilient after all that we’ve been through? Or is it the fault of working from home [the Telegraph’s number one cause of all social problems]. In fact, people who work from home are less likely to take time off sick, which is not necessarily a good thing.

But I digress. The thing is we don’t know what the long-term impact of the pandemic will be and it’s mixed up with so many other things in any event, including falling living standards for many. We don’t know what impact isolating to prevent ourselves from contagious diseases has had on our health and on the germs around us. We don’t know what Covid has done long term to our bodies. When my partner got Covid he lost his sense of taste and smell for several weeks. Now when he gets a cold he is likely to have some of the same symptoms. He has tested for Covid and been negative, but he still loses his sense of taste and smell. Many people, of course, are still suffering from Long Covid.

There will be loads of research studies over the next years tracking the longer term impact of the pandemic on everything from health to economics. There’s a lot of wishful thinking in the air about lockdowns – suggesting things would have been better if we hadn’t locked down. For some, maybe, but at what cost to others? Hopefully lots will emerge about what we could do better next time around, for instance, with regard to education and it will be evidence-based not based on political ideology.

We should beware simple explanations for any one symptom, such as increased mental illness, because there are so many things that feed into that. Everyone’s experience of the pandemic was different. I know young people who had mental illness before Covid and felt less stressed during the pandemic because they didn’t have to go out. Yet for many young people being isolated from their friends has been a bad thing and the disruption to education will have a long-lasting impact. Others have faced bereavement, increased risk of domestic violence, divorce, loss of businesses and all sorts.

The fact that anything related to the pandemic – or to anything at all really – is so politicised these days means that it is difficult to discuss our individual experiences openly.

But for now we need to take any post-pandemic kneejerk responses with a pinch of salt until we can get a more rounded view on what is happening and what that means for the future.

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