Sufferers from long Covid aren't ready for 'normal' yetMr. Hong, 30, was told by his doctor that he was fully recovered from Covid-19. Yet he's having trouble getting back to work.
“I still have breathing problems and my face turns pale,” he said. “It’s very different from recovering from the flu.”
Hong is suffering from long Covid, a mysterious range of ailments that persist after someone recovers from a bout with the illness. The Korean government is preparing for a post-Omicron period of relaxed public health measures and a so-called return to normalcy. People suffering from long Covid would like nothing better -- but their bodies aren't cooperating.
One immediate problem in Korea's office culture is the fear that the illness will be misinterpreted as slacking off or finding an excuse to stay home.
“I can’t concentrate,” said Ms. Yoo, an office worker in her 20s. “I get tired easily. I’m not feigning illness, but I worry that I will be misunderstood as doing so.”
Mr. Park, 27, fears the same thing at his workplace. “It’s been a while since I’ve been out of isolation but I get severe headaches,” he said. “A colleague of mine also still has symptoms, but is back at work. I don't want people to think that I'm not up to the job so I try not to show that I'm feeling ill.”
According to the World Health Organization, long Covid symptoms include shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction, fatigue, chest pain, trouble speaking, anxiety or depression, muscle aches, fever and loss of smell or taste. GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, estimates that 10 to 30 percent of all recovered Covid patients may suffer from some symptoms of long Covid.
Doctors say there are three main theories about how long Covid affects the body. “It may be because the virus has attacked and destroyed organs, it may be due to excessive cytokines released to fight the virus, or it may be that autoimmune antibodies have attacked organs and tissues,” said Kim Woo-joo, a professor of infectious diseases at Korea University’s Guro Hospital.
In the eagerness to get over the pandemic, many people in Korea have looked at Covid in a simplistic way: as something that both society as a whole and individuals had to simply get over. That doesn't take into account long Covid.
“Side-effects of Covid-19 have started to receive attention recently," says Kim, "but at the beginning of the pandemic there was an atmosphere of not talking about them.”
Many sufferers want to know how long they will feel bad, but there aren't many definite answers for them.
“I tested positive last December and still haven’t fully recovered,” said Mrs. Lee, 27, who recently gave birth. “I had side-effects all throughout the pregnancy and I worry now that I will have these side-effects for life. I hope the government will actively inform the public about these side-effects.”
Last January, a petition calling for “establishing care centers for long Covid patients” was posted on the online Blue House petition board. “We want the government to conduct research into how long long Covid can last,” the petition read.
“With 15 million Covid-19 patients, the number of people with long Covid will also increase,” said Paik Soon-young, professor emeritus at the Catholic University of Korea’s School of Medicine. “We need to analyze Covid-19 side-effects and urgently prepare treatments needed for patients of long Covid.”
BY YANG SU-MIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]