Opinion: Christine Tongue – The virus…we are not all in this together

The virus continues to affect people's lives

How are you spending lockdown? Probably, like me, watching too much telly, weeping at the NHS worker deaths and shouting at the politicians who seem confused by it all. And in the garden immersing myself in this fantastic spring.

But the phone and the internet bring the real world into your sunny garden and I’m hearing stories that frankly terrify me.

An NHS worker friend tested positive for the virus and was told she could go back to work seven days after her first symptoms. But the World Health Organisation guidelines are for fourteen days isolation after a positive test. Her husband and kids were told to stay in for two weeks, and she went to work – fortunately in enough of a panic to insist on doing admin for a week, rather than seeing patients.


I had a telephone consultation with a doctor at the London hospital which may be able to help my crumbling joints. But of course they don’t want me near an operating theatre until the NHS is out of this crisis. And they won’t risk orthopaedic patients who aren’t an emergency. So we spent the time mulling over the NHS crisis. He was happy on the phone but was worried about going back on the wards even with full PPE, as the virus is everywhere, and no one’s sure when the next PPE consignment will arrive.

His wife is a dermatologist. “I bet she’s not been busy?” I said. But no. Her work is vastly increased by NHS workers turning up with rashes from excess handwashing and face sores from wearing tight masks for long hours.

He was wistful about Germany, which started this pandemic with 16,000 intensive care beds – more than three times the UK number – and he worried about the increased ratio of staff to patients. In ICU (Intensive Care Units) it’s one to one normally. Now it’s six or seven patients to one staff member.


Another call brings Carol (I’ve changed names) into my life who has had a non-typical form of Covid in the early days of the pandemic. Hers came with stomach problems. After not eating for three days and feeling awful she tried her symptoms on her GP and the 111 helpline, but because she didn’t have a cough she was told she didn’t have the virus.

A panic trip to A&E and she was told the same – without testing, even though she’d been in a chain of contacts who had tested positive. She self isolated but her problem wasn’t just the virus, it was panic and post traumatic stress from trying to get help and dealing with a very serious illness alone. Friends and mental health services have now rallied round to help but for many people the aftermath of the virus might well be worse than the illness itself.

Stomach upsets have now been added to the list of possible Covid symptoms.

People think that you’re supposed to be alone, shunned by everyone because you may pass it on, and some are unable to access hospital services until they’re so ill it may be too late.

Many people are also scared to go to hospital even with serious problems in case they make it worse by catching the virus.

Access Thanet

But for many disabled people their biggest worry is money. And for the learning disabled it’s much worse. Here’s a story from Access Thanet about Alex who has a disabled daughter in a care home.

“I’ve had some sleepless nights worrying about all this. A significant portion of my daughter’s benefit comes through the Job Centre who are inundated by millions suddenly unemployed. Plus the department have had their own hours of employment cut from 9:30 till 3pm …..but I finally got through yesterday on the phone and another two hours of arguing with each department I was passed to I managed to get the money she was owed …..”

Lengthy complicated forms are involved and it’s emotionally draining convincing officials that Alex has to speak for her daughter as she can’t communicate with them or understand the forms.

Both Alex and her daughter are under lockdown so can’t go in person to sort things out and it’s all made much worse by so many more thousands of laid-off workers trying to get money from the government.

We’re all supposed to be in this together but disabled people are getting the worst of it.

And if you’ve had the virus you may need to be treated as disabled until we find the long term effects of it both mentally and physically.