'I've aged 20 years' — City barista on his battle with long Covid
- Credit: Neil Didsbury
A long Covid sufferer whose battle with "debilitating fatigue" continues months after contracting the virus has warned the government the pandemic is far from over.
Barista and manager of the Strangers Coffee branch at All Saints Green, 53-year-old Giles Hayward-Smith, was struck with coronavirus last November.
And though his only real symptom was extreme fatigue, it continues to plague him nine months later.
He said: "I've never been able to pinpoint how I first caught the virus.
"I had run 50k that week because I was training for my first half-marathon. I felt unusually tired but thought maybe I'd just pushed it too far.
"I went for a Covid test just to be sure and it came back positive, so I had to isolate for ten days."
According to Mr Hayward-Smith, the isolation period was the only time he took off work in relation to Covid.
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"Furlough and Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) were never an option", he said, "because neither would have paid the bills.
"There's no support system in place for people who have long Covid — either physically or financially.
"You can't get a sick note as there's no official way to diagnose it, and there's no effective treatment to tackle the symptoms.
"The only choice I had was to go back to work."
Being on his feet all day as a barista exacerbated his exhaustion.
"My social life was ruined", he said. "I would do my eight hours at work and be wiped out.
"Because I live at home by myself, I didn't have anyone to help me pick up the slack with housework or walking the dog.
"Last October I was always running, and doing yoga nearly every day. I felt as fit as I was back in my early 40s.
"Now, I feel like long Covid has added 20 years to that. It's really aged me.
"I'm like a man in his late 60s. I end up tired and breathless when I'm trying to exercise."
Mr Hayward-Smith said one day last month he woke up feeling "completely normal" — and not drained as usual.
"It was just a random Thursday", he said.
"I woke up and it was as if someone had pushed a button in the back of my neck, like a reset on a router.
"After I spoke to my doctor to tell him how much better I felt, he warned me not to get too comfortable because long Covid often makes a return."
Mr Hayward-Smith said his doctor was right.
"I ended up taking a lateral flow test last week because even though I'm doubled jabbed I thought I must have caught it a second time", he said. "I felt horrendous.
"Turns out I don't, and it's still just long Covid making me feel awful. The tiredness is crippling and the worst part is I have no idea when it will be over."
Despite taking vitamin supplements and changing his diet, the barista said nothing seemed to be working.
He warned the government that lifting restrictions too quick was a concern for him — and the country may have a "long Covid" epidemic on its hands if it did not proceed with caution.
"At Strangers we'll be wearing masks and maintaining social distancing even after July 19," he said. "It will help keep everyone safe."
Professor Danny Altmann is an Imperial College Researcher helping to devise a blood test that will "diagnose" long Covid.
Researchers say they have detected irregularities in the blood of long Covid patients that could pave the way for a test for the condition.
One of his concerns, however, is that vaccinations may not protect people from long Covid symptoms.
He told the BBC Panorama team that the UK's plans to "live with" the virus could be stoking the flames of another wave.
He said: "If we're heading into a phase of 100,000 cases per day, and we're saying that 10-20pc of all infections can result in long Covid, I can see no certainty that we're not brewing those long Covid cases despite having a vaccinated population."