A FOUR-FOLD increase nationally has been observed in the past week of numbers receiving enhanced illness benefit. In Waterford, on December 22, there were 3,468 people recorded as having registered at some stage for the illness payment. This rose sharply on January 5 to 3,590, and again on January 12 to 3,888. In financial terms, this equates to potentially €3,500 per person, or €13.6m for Waterford alone.
It reflects a live increase of 420 people from December to January, and an increase in seven days of 298.The payment is made available to those who cannot work in the short-term due to self-isolating as a close contact, or as a confirmed case.
Figures indicate that the 35-44 age bracket is reporting the highest figures in receipt of the enhanced illness benefit. Additionally, the highest volumes of people claiming this payment are coming from work backgrounds of factories, motor repair industry, retail, healthcare and social work.
Last week, the Waterford News & Star reported on the powerful testimony of 45-year-old Linda Dalton, who was, 115 days after contracting Covid-19, still suffering from debillitating symptoms.
Linda, like many others, has been unable to return to work since her diagnosis. Having initially received the enhanced illness benefit, she is now receiving illness benefit.
The enhanced illness benefit is a payment available to claimants for 10 weeks, by which time it is presumed that the person in question is either no longer a close contact, or has recovered. However, the rise in prevalance of Long Covid indicates the long-term economic implications of lingering symptoms. This leaves sufferers with little choice but to transition from the enhanced illness benefit to the standard long-term illness benefit, which is a reduced figure of €203 per week.
Speaking to the Waterford News & Star last week, Dr. Dermot Nolan from Tramore Medical Clinic estimates that up to 65% of patients will continue to experience considerable tiredness following a diagnosis of Covid-19.
‘Although there is no definite diagnostic test, we do know that this is a real life thing, this is not in people’s heads.’
“There are two distinct cohorts of patients: those who have Covid and are in the community, and those who are in hospital, “ said Dr. Nolan. “More than 25% of those who have ended up in hospital with Covid-19 will continue to display symptoms two-months after contracting the virus. For those in the community, for whom a hospital stay was not necessary, perhaps one in 20 are experiencing long term symptoms.”
According to Dr. Nolan, patients continue to report symptoms such as extreme tiredness, shortness of breath and brain fog, where thoughts, reactions and decisions aren’t as sharp as they would normally be, and thoughts feel clouded. There are also a variety of lesser known and lingering symptoms being reported such as tummy pain and rash.
However, the Tramore GP is keen to emphasise that all signs point towards people recovering, however the individual recovery rate will differ from person to person.
“Things can be done to help like improving lung volume and capacity by blowing up a balloon at home, getting exercise everyday even if you don’t feel like it because it is tempting to sit under it. Taking Vitamin D is important, as is avoiding alcohol and excess caffeine.
“There is often a large volume of guilt associated with contracting Covid-19 and this can affect your mental health quite a lot, guilt can be toxic so realising that it isn’t your fault is important. It isn’t your fault that you contracted the virus. There are things to be positive about, there is a vaccine being rolled out and the rates are beginning to fall, these are all good things.”
With much still unknown about the lasting implications of the virus, it is unclear how the workforce will be impacted once the economy at large begins to re-open. However, it is a given that significantly higher volumes of people will receive the illness benefit for an indefinite amount of time.