#LongCOVID two years on

Many viral infections do not leave a long-lasting effect. We normally expect that after a common cold we recover quickly and do not have any symptoms after few days. Influenza typically lasts 3-7 days, although cough and malaise can persist for more than 2 weeks, particularly in elderly or immuno-compromised people.

At the other extreme, infection with chickenpox often leaves people with a long persisting viral infection which is dormant but can resurface later in life as shingles. And, infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) leads to life-long disease, AIDS, drastically affecting health and reducing life expectancy.

We have been aware of #LongCOVID from early stages of the pandemic. The first use of the word was on Twitter, on 20th May 2020, almost exactly 2 years ago:

https://twitter.com/elisaperego78/status/1263172084055838721?s=20&t=lAYgdaxSlxsSElrVfTnVvA

We still continue to learn about the #LongCOVID, its frequency, length and severity. A non-insiginificant proportion of those who had symptomatic COVID, can still experience some symptoms weeks if not months after the infection. For some, Long COVID means a long-lasting debilitating condition.

Although the Long COVID experience is real for many people, both the government and large parts of the society have largely ignored it so far. However, there is a growing realisation that it might have a major impact, not only on affected individuals, but on the whole society and particular on the economy.

#LongCOVID is not likely to go away soon. The society and the government seem to have accepted that SARS-CoV-2 will be with us for a long time, even if at relatively low levels. The transition to the “endemic” state has been hailed as a success. And indeed, it seems an improvement on the “pandemic” state characterised by repeated, large scale outbreaks.

But the word “endemic” means “always present” (“en” – meaning “in”, “demos” – meaning “population”, so something that is continuously “in population”).

Thus, the virus, SARS-CoV-2, is likely to persist in the population, with reinfections continuously affecting . In this situation, we will see a continuously increasing number of people with #LongCOVID. These people will be ill for a long time, putting increasing stress on – already stretched – health systems.

And these people might not be able to work. We might already see this effect, not only in the sharp increase of people outside the workforce in 2020 – caused directly by the pandemic – but in the latest rapid increase on the graph below:

The Bank of England report also shows a more detailed plot comparing predictions and actual data for the number of people in work:

Number of people in work

Not only we see the rapid drop in 2020 caused by the pandemic itself, but a continuing decline after the initial shock. This means that in terms of the number of people in work there is no post-pandemic recovery – worse, we see a continuing decrease. And the gap between the extrapolated trend and reality is nearly 10 million people by now!

It might take a while to understand what impact can be attributed to #LongCOVID (as opposed to the general NHS malfunctioning or other factors), but it is clear that there is a continuing – and increasing – problem. It has massive implications for the economy and for social care – people not working are not producing but also not earning. They need financial, social and health support.

Not only the economics and the society as a whole are affected, but the individuals will experience problems beyond the actual illness. We might increasingly see the situations as shown in the tweet below.

when an application for life insurance – needed for mortgage application – might be rejected for people who had particularly nasty bout of COVID.

So, what can we do? Firstly, we need to recognise that #LongCOVID exists and that it needs to be dealt with. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has already produced a report and a list of recommendations. Hopefully, the government will take these recommendations on board and establish a system to support the #LongCOVID sufferers.

Is there anything else we can do as individuals? #LongCOVID seems to be related to a “post-viral fatigue” caused by a response of immune system to the viral infection. The risk factors appear to be age, obesity, asthma, and severity of the actual COVID infection.

Thus, anything we can do to strengthen our immune system – food, exercise, healthy lifestyle – is likely to make us less prone to experience #LongCOVID. Vaccination – even if not protecting us completely from infection – reduces the risk of severe COVID infection. Mask wearing and personal hygiene will reduce the number of reinfections with SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Climate change business and finance

This blog is not only on statistics and, even more, not only on COVID-19. As the pandemic becomes “normalised” (whatever that means), I will be looking at other topics. Plus, writing only about the coronavirus is getting a bit boring.

One of these topics is climate change. Regardless of what we think about the mechanisms, it is becoming increasingly clear that something indeed is going on. From more extreme weather conditions to rising temperatures, from disappearing glaciers to freak firestorms, the evidence is mounting that climate is changing in ways that could have severe implications.

My professional interest lies in how these changes affect pests and diseases, but the implications are for all businesses.

The World Bank estimates that climate change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030. However, the impacts of climate change are not evenly distributed, and the poorest and most vulnerable people are often the most affected.

For example, as shown in the movie below, it is often the poorest farmers who are most impacted by climate change. They usually can least afford new plant varieties that might cope better with changing weather or emerging pests. The outcome is that they will often lose their livelihoods and will have to migrate.

Thus, directly or indirectly, climate change has significant economic and social impacts. These include lost productivity, increased healthcare costs, damage to infrastructure, and disruptions to trade.

The precise impacts of climate change are difficult to predict. Still, companies need to take action to prepare for a future in which extreme weather events are more frequent and intense.

Climate change is already having an impact on businesses around the world. The World Economic Forumโ€™s 2018 Global Risks Report found that extreme weather events are the top global risk in terms of likelihood and have been for the last three years. The effects of climate change are far-reaching and will touch every aspect of our lives and business, from supply chains and manufacturing to individual person’s health and safety.

Supply chains can become disrupted. We are now perhaps more concerned with the effects of war in Ukraine on food supply than on climate change impacts. But, India has recently announced that extreme weather earlier this year has severely affected grain production. India was hoping to substitute their production for Ukrainian and Russian exports, but this might no longer be possible.

Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can affect factory operations. Heat stress from rising temperatures can increase absenteeism and accidents.

We have already seen increased flooding in some parts of the world and drought leading to fires in others. The damage to buildings, roads and railways needs to be taken into account.

In addition to the physical effects of climate change, businesses also face financial risks from climate change. These risks come from both the direct impacts of climate change on business operations and indirect impacts such as regulatory changes, legal liabilities, and reputational damage.

Businesses – small and large – need all help from governmental or non-governmental organisations. In the financial context, an example of such an initiative is the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). The TCFD guide and recommendations were formed to help businesses understand and disclose these risks. So, if you are involved in any financially-related business, TCFD might be a useful link to explore.

2022 Plant Health Week

Sunset in Hyderabad, India (more about which in the next post)

As my family very well knows, I love plants and, above all, trees. They can tell a story of when I almost broke my leg while walking to get a better look at a particularly beautiful tree.

And yet, plants and trees are under a relentless threat from pests and diseases. Climate change and trade contribute to the increase in the incidence, but our knowledge of how to protect the natural and crop resources also increases.

The year 2020 started as an UN-designated Plant Health Year but very quickly the COVID-19 pandemic caused the plant pests and diseases to be forgotten.

Instead, in both 2021 and 2022 we have designated a week to remind ourselves that without plants we will all be dead.

Under the hashtags #PlantsMakeLifeBetter and #PlantHealthWeek we have this week been celebrating plant beauty and usefulness:

The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.ย 

Gen 1: 12-13, ESV

To celebrate the #PlantHealthWeek, yesterday I reminded my readers of the article which I wrote earlier this year, in which I told a story of how human lives and activities are intertwined with forest fates:

Today, in turn, we affirm that #PlantsMakeLifeBetter:

Hope you can enjoy – and will continue reading this blog over the remaining days of #PlantHealthWeek (and beyond).