I’d have passed for an extra working on a remake of Night of the Living Dead. I say Night of the Living Dead as opposed to, say, World War Z or 28 Days Later, because its zombies are slow-moving beasties – not the Olympic athletes the undead monsters have become in more recent flicks. Welcome to “mild” Omicron.
A week-and-a-half in has involved writing through fuzzy-headed exhaustion, while being down around £100 through being too ill to attend the live music shows I’d booked years ago. Some of this cash I made back through not needing to buy food. I’d sometimes wake up feeling OK – at the top of the ladder – only to fall down the snake by lunchtime. I suppose that, compared to OG Covid, this does indeed count as “mild”, as the NHS and the government like to characterise “most” Covid infections.
In the pre-vaccine world, the OG version of Covid felt like breathing with a tonne of breeze blocks on my chest. But here’s the thing, that too was counted as “mild” because I didn’t get as far as a hospital. I was just knocked flat for two weeks, while enduring the aftereffects for two months. My wife was in a worse state. It was touch and go at one point. She would likely have ended up on oxygen, were hospitals not overflowing at the time. She was almost in the “moderate” category – at least in medical terms.
In real, everyday life terms, that day was the most frightening I’d lived through since I was lying under the wheels of a cement truck having had most of my bones broken, a collapsed lung – and more besides. How easily we forget what the virus was like then. Mild, it was not. It was anything but. Omicron, or whatever subvariant I contracted, was a relative breeze in comparison. But that still doesn’t mean it felt mild. That word is really quite offensive. It felt terrible.
There was the headache, for starters – and for those yet to experience that particular delight, remember Monkey? Monkey was a hit Japanese show in my youth in which the miscreant anti-hero of the title was punished for misbehaving by Tripitaka, the priest who released him from Buddha’s prison to help him in a quest (by tightening a band around his head).
Throw in lack of appetite, exhaustion and a nasty sore throat and cough combo. Living through Omicron was (and still is) horribly frustrating and debilitating. Even after (finally) testing negative, the wrenching fatigue remains. A few steps can feel like running an Olympic marathon. That’s not a normal “mild” illness. A nasty flu-like cold can knock you flat, but it’s rare for them to hang around for much more than a few days at worst. Norovirus – winter vomiting – is pure hell, particularly for people like me with type 1 autoimmune diabetes.
The latter makes things very complicated. But you’re seriously unlucky if that sticks around for more than 72 hours. This one? It hangs on, and on and on – even with the vaccine. Goodness knows what an unvaccinated version would be like. Which helps explain why that damnable word, “mild”, is problematic to me. It makes the virus seem like something it’s not – normal, ordinary, everyday – when it actually has the capacity to royally muck you up in a way few everyday illnesses can rival.
Just wait until it’s butting heads with flu in the autumn and the winter. Before you ask, no, I’m not arguing for another lockdown. I’m really not. I would, however, gently suggest that it might be an idea to start thinking about a few sensible precautions to limit the potential national side effects of this thing come the cold and damp.
Right now, it feels as if we’re doing everything we can to ignore the fact that it’s with us, even though the latest government figures show nearly 14,000 people in hospital with it, 175 of them on ventilators. If that savage human cost doesn’t cut it for the rogues’ gallery in Whitehall, perhaps ministers might care to pay attention to economics – particularly given that Britain’s current economic woes are threatening to plunge a dagger into their electoral prospects?
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
We’re already staring a nasty recession in the face while enduring sky-high inflation. Interest rates are heading north at a rapid rate. “Mild” Covid, if it’s minded to, could pour petrol on that fire – bringing certain services to a near halt as a result of people being off sick. Transport systems, supply chains, deliveries, schools, the NHS. Especially the NHS.
If you want the best of it, you want people off sick – rather than coming in while infectious and spreading the thing around. They need to be encouraged not to do that. That means better sick pay, as the TUC has argued for; and a word in the ears of employers. If my description of the misery of “mild” Covid doesn’t push the needle, maybe economics will.
Take it from someone still suffering from a hangover created by the microscopic miscreant – even after testing negative. It is still very much with us. It is still very nasty. It still needs attention. And it is not mild. When I hear that word on the TV, or on YouTube, I feel like lobbing a brick at the screen. I would, in fact, but “mild” Covid has robbed me of the energy. We really shouldn’t underestimate it. We should call it what it is: bloody awful.