Events in parliament today showed the disparity between how the major parties are treating the pandemic.
In the commons chamber, MPs from the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on coronavirus, gave compelling evidence on the impact of long covid on those who caught the virus earlier in the pandemic. Stretching well past the usual 10 to 14 day period of being unwell, those living with long covid report a range of symptoms, including frequent tiredness, heart problems, and short-term memory loss, in part due to severe damage to the immune system following their experience with coronavirus.
Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish, described his own experience living with long covid, having caught the virus during the first wave. Addressing the chamber via Zoom, he said:
I was lucky: my GP is brilliant, and from an early stage recognised my condition. For the first seven months or so, the exhaustion came back frequently and to the point where just doing simple tasks around the House brought me out in massive sweats as if I had run the London marathon. I had lots of dizzy spells, and oh, the brain fog! In a job where we have to be razor sharp, my short-term memory is shot to pieces.
Long covid can affect up to one in five of those infected, and the impact of this is becoming apparent. Layla Moran MP, who chairs the APPG, laid out the group’s main recommendations:
- Better reporting, particularly on deaths and hospitalisations caused by long covid
- More money on research into the illness’s causes and impacts
- Further support from the welfare state, including a compensation scheme, for frontline, health, and social care staff living with long covid, and the designation of long covid as an occupational illness
Such measures, Moran claims, will not only help those battling long covid, but will raise awareness of the long-term impacts of the coronavirus. It is hoped that this awareness will deter young people, who may view themselves as safe from the consequences of covid, from taking risks which might spread the virus.
Addressing the hundreds of people living with long covid who wrote to her, she said:
“I want them to know that they have not been forgotten and that this House has heard them and it is listening. Our hope now is that the Government will step up and act, too”.
Support also came from the Labour party frontbench, as shadow mental health minister, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, addressed the chamber on behalf of the party’s frontbench. During the debate, Dr Allin-Khan said:
“Without action from the Government, the long-term social and economic consequences of this could be grave. Key workers have an increased risk of catching covid. NHS workers in particular are at least three times more likely to contract it than the general population, and this could wreak havoc on our frontline workforce”.
Yorkshire was represented at the debate by Olivia Blake (MP for Sheffield Hallam). Although Blake did not get a chance to make the speech she’d prepared, she told Yorkshire Bylines:
“Today’s debate is very important, thousands of people are suffering with longer term and chronic illness caused by the virus. We need to continue to lower the infection rate as the vaccine is rolled out, invest in research needed to better understand it, improve care pathways and also publish the statistics on how many people are suffering with longer term covid-related health problems. Given the increased exposure of key workers, I also think employers need to treat staff with dignity and respect, and recognise this as an occupational disease”.
Meanwhile, outside of the chamber, Conservative MPs were making moves to topple their leader if he did not provide a roadmap to loosening restrictions. After 1,564of people died from the pandemic yesterday, Steve Baker, chair of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), sent a letter to members, saying:
“People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership because they are not standing up for our values as a party. If we continue forward with a strategy that hammers freedom, hammers the private sector, hammers small business owners and hammers the poor, inevitably the Prime Minister’s leadership will be on the table”.
It is somewhat unlikely that Baker will get what he wants. With only 60 MPs in his group, he is far short of 183 that he would need to unseat Johnson in an internal leadership challenge. Even if all 71 Conservatives who rebelled against the decision to move into the tier system in December (whose Yorkshire members include Imran Ahmad-Khan (Wakefield), Philip Davies (Shipley), David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) and Robbie Moore (Keighley)) voted against Johnson, he would stay.
What it does show, however, is that a number of our elected officials are failing to take this pandemic seriously. Despite evidence being given in the Commons that, even for healthy and active young people, the virus can have serious long-term impacts that will stretch the capacity of the NHS to cope with the pandemic and deliver an effective vaccine rollout, they refuse to consider anything other than loose conceptions of ‘freedom’.
If Conservatives do oust Johnson over restrictions, questions should be asked over why a decision taken to save lives was not tolerable to them, yet they were happy to tolerate threats to break international law, decisions to not give meals to starving children, and tens of thousands of avoidable deaths during the pandemic.
Rather than ignore the severity of the pandemic’s threat, like Baker’s CRG, we should all pay attention to the APPG’s work, as they discover more about the significance of long covid. More money needs to be given to researching its effects, and more leeway needs to be given for those who have overcome the initial threat of the virus but who are living with the long-term consequences.
Rather than squabbling over ivory-tower ideology, the Conservative Party needs to pull itself together, and recognise the severity of the task at hand.
Sign the petition. Thousands of frontline health and care workers, as well as key workers, have developed long covid while responding to the coronavirus outbreak in the UK. With many not being able to return to work because of the debilitating effects, the least the UK government can do is recognise long covid as an occupational disease.