A midwife has told the BBC how “long Covid” left her in a wheelchair as Boris Johnson faces calls to compensate key workers suffering from the condition.
A total of 65 MPs and peers have signed a letter to the PM, asking for it to be recognised as an occupational disease.
Before June 2020, Jo Aitken was working as an NHS community midwife. She now needs a wheelchair to leave the house.
She says long Covid changed her life completely.
It can present as a range of different symptoms suffered by people weeks or months after being infected with the virus, even for those who weren’t seriously ill when they had it.
According to the British Medical Journal, it is thought to occur in approximately 10% of people infected.
For Jo, 50, it has left her unable to work as a midwife since last June.
“It’s not been easy,” she said. “I hardly go out anymore because I just haven’t got the energy.
“This weekend I succumbed and got a wheelchair. I can’t walk more than 10 metres without needing a rest.”
“I love my job, I don’t like not being able to do it,” she added. “But being a community midwife involves a lot of moving around, lifting babies and equipment.
“I’ve been getting really good care from the NHS and latterly from my employer as well.”
But there is an end in sight for Jo, who was told by her doctor he expects her to make a full recovery.
“I cried with relief when he told me that,” she said. “At the moment I can’t really see an end to it, but him saying that, it kind of put the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Two positive Covid tests eight months apart
Emma, a 32-year-old district nurse in Belfast, has tested positive for coronavirus twice but says long Covid is “far worse” than the virus itself.
“I caught Covid the first time in April last year,” she said. “I was really unwell, my breathing was really bad. I went back to work after the 14 days, but relapsed quickly and ended up in hospital.
“Being a district nurse requires you to be fit, going to people’s houses, but I was suffering fatigue and heart palpitations, along with aches and pains.
“I’d be on quite heavy painkillers, and some mornings when it was so bad I’d set my alarm an hour earlier just to take painkillers and be able to go to work.”
For Emma, stress is the biggest trigger for her symptoms to relapse.
“I was working over Christmas,” she said. “I’d already had my vaccine, but then became quite unwell and went to do a test just to satisfy myself. Because I have long Covid symptoms it was hard to distinguish, and the test came back positive.
“It’s exacerbated all the long Covid symptoms.”
Emma added that it has also affected her ability to plan for the future.
“My partner and I wanted to have another baby,” she said. “But I don’t know if I’ll ever be well enough to do that.
“It’s massively affected my career progression. With the fatigue, I don’t know how I could do a masters or similar.
“The long Covid has been completely life changing. I don’t think people understand, how fit and healthy I was before and how tired I feel now.”
‘It’s pretty terrifying’
But it is not just key workers who are being affected by long Covid.
Shane, 48 and from Berkshire, works in a contact centre for a housing association.
“Back in March of last year I got what I thought was a small cold or a flu, I was off work for two weeks,” he said.
“I went back to work, and I started to gradually feel worse. I was really tired, I had issues I’d never had before like vertigo.
“I was starting to get very increased heart rate and breathlessness, that led onto lots of other things, generally lots of unpleasant things that have not gone away.
“I’ve been off work since August 2020 because it was unsafe for me to be dealing with people in a vulnerable situation.”
He was referred to a long Covid clinic who confirmed they believed he had the illness, which he described as “pretty terrifying”.
“I had a small cardiac event in November,” he said. “That saw me rushed to hospital. It’s just carried on from there.
“Nothing has gotten any better. You can have a couple of good days where you think you got past it, then it just whacks you back again.
“I was referred to the long Covid clinic, but they were very limited in what they could and couldn’t do. The only thing that was offered to me was talking therapy and antidepressants.
“My doctor has confirmed to me she does think it’s long Covid, but I did have some doctors who said it was anxiety.
“It’s very disheartening when you’re already feeling incredibly bad, to have a doctor tell you it’s all in your mind. I’ve always had boundless stamina.
“I would do a four-hour walk with no after effects, now I walk to my bin store and I’m absolutely shattered.
“I can barely do anything right now.”
‘A marathon with no finish line’
Meanwhile, 27-year-old nurse Sophie Evans says she has also been unable to work because of her condition.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “Imagine running a marathon with no finish line at all.
“So I just feel like I am running every single day, entirely exhausted, and I have no idea when this will end.”