Nearly four years since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, you could be forgiven for believing the pandemic is behind us. But for many, it feels far from over.
Close to two million people face a daily battle with debilitating symptoms of long Covid – the lasting symptoms of the virus that remain after the infection is gone – with some now housebound, unable to walk and even partially blind.
Alan Chambers, 49, and Allan Reeling, 76, are among those who have been grappling with the illness for years, having caught coronavirus in March 2020, two months after the UK’s first two patients tested positive for the virus.
Mr Chambers went from being “a fit, healthy, working member of the community who would do anything to help anyone” to being “ill and isolated in our bedroom”, blind in one eye and no longer able to walk unaided, his wife Vicki said.
The father-of-two also suffers from “intense” pain, “constant” headaches, chronic fatigue, and an erratic heart rate.
Just before he caught Covid, Mr Reeling, of Telford in Shropshire, was going to the gym five times a week. Now, among other symptoms, his issues with balance are so severe that he can “fall flat on [his] face” when he attempts to stand, he is “absolutely frozen stiff and exhausted all the time” and he developed a “howling” in his left ear that was diagnosed as tinnitus.
He told The Independent: “It has wrecked the last three and a half years of my life, and it will wreck the rest of my life until the coffin lid is screwed. I wasn’t looking at circling the plughole [in a state of decline], but now I think I am circling the plughole.
“I can’t see this getting any better. I’d like to see the end of it, but I can’t see any prospect of it. On a daily basis, I feel rubbish. It’s atrocious, debilitating and depressing.”
As of March, an estimated 1.9 million people in the UK have experienced coronavirus symptoms for more than four weeks, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. Of those, 1.5 million reported the condition had adversely affected their day-to-day activities.
Meanwhile, a major new study led by researchers at Imperial College London has revealed that one in 20 patients have symptoms lasting more than a year.
It comes as coronavirus case rates have shown an overall increase since July, with fears the approaching winter will bring a further surge in infections.
Yet in May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that coronavirus no longer represents a global health emergency, which was seen as a symbolic step towards the end of the pandemic.
Dr Jo House, founding member and health advocacy lead at Long Covid Support, said the advocacy group now has 62,000 members, with about 250 more people joining every month.