Long Covid refers to symptoms of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) that persist for weeks or even months, in excess of 12 weeks according to the health watchdog National Insititute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice). Latest figures suggest that one in five people who test positive for Covid-19 continue to experience symptoms for five weeks or more. Around 10% of those affected display symptoms lasting 12 weeks or more.
Covid-19 is more than a simple lung disease. It can cause permanent damage and scarring to the lungs, cause inflammation and rhythm disturbances in the heart, as well as increase the likelihood of heart attack, stroke or deep vein thrombosis.
Coronavirus isn’t the first virus to cause potential heart problems. Severe flu is known to not only potentially damage the heart – it can give rise to fibromyalgia, glandular fever and the pitilessly described ‘yuppie’ flu, or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CFS was classified as a disability back in 1998.
Leicester University’s study, published in March 2021, indicates that 70% of those recovering from Covid still experience symptoms five months after leaving hospital. It found that women, mostly in middle age, are the worst affected group.
These findings point to long Covid becoming a candidate for disability. One test for disability (under section 6 of the Equality Act 2010) is an ailment where symptoms persist for 12 months or more. It is looking increasingly likely Covid-19 sufferers will fall into this category.
Disability does not require to be named, or even officially diagnosed, to qualify for protections under the Equality Act and those sufferers of long Covid could well become eligible.
So employers need to be vigilant and sensitive to Covid-19 sufferers in the workplace. Employers might consider amending duties for those affected. The unprecedented and unpredictable nature of Covid-19 will oblige some form of medical intervention, like occupational health, to at least ascertain the degree of impairment caused by this condition.
Employees cannot be expected to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’, keep calm and carry on as if nothing has happened. It has and it will continue to do so as we all face up to this condition and the likelihood of it becoming a permanent feature of our working lives in the years ahead.
Victoria von Wachter is a barrister at 5 Essex Court