What happens if you develop Long Covid and it impacts your ability to work? As The Detail finds out, you may not be able to rely on the government for support.

While the worst of the pandemic seems to be coming to an end – touch wood – it’s likely we’re going to be grappling with the long-term effects of Covid-19 for some time yet. 

New Zealand may have been able to hold off the Omicron wave for a couple of months, but now that hundreds of thousands of people have been infected, it’s inevitable more people will go on to develop Long Covid. 

Some of those people will have to take time off work as a result – and some may have to leave their jobs altogether. 

One of the most difficult elements of dealing with Long Covid is categorising it in the first place. 

The Ministry of Health’s website says there’s no test for it. In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s diagnosis of post-Covid-19 syndrome is made on the basis of symptoms persisting 12 weeks after a person contracted Covid-19.  

But with things opening up in the UK, this poses a challenge. 

“There are some people who’ve got Long Covid who have never had a positive Covid test,” says health economist Paula Lorgelly, a New Zealander set to return to her home country soon after spending the best part of two decades living and working in the UK. 

“But they were hospitalised with those symptoms, so we assume they’ve got Covid. 

“Now, in the UK, we’ve probably got people who have got Covid, but may not even be testing. 

“There could be a question, subsequently as to the availability and recording of tests. It’ll be interesting to know if these long-lasting symptoms actually need this confirmed diagnosis in the first place.” 

Estimates are even hard to come by as to what proportion of Covid-19 cases go on to develop Long Covid: most research indicates 10 to 30 percent of cases will, but some studies suggest as many as 50 percent of people who get Covid-19 haven’t fully recovered six months later. 

What happens if that impacts your ability to work? 

Stuff business editor Susan Edmunds says people in that position might find themselves in difficult territory, as they’re unlikely to qualify for ACC.  

“I’ve heard some argument that people might say they contracted Covid at work and they might try to battle that way, but I can’t imagine a situation where ACC would cover you being off work for Long Covid. 

“I think this is actually a wider issue in general: the insurance sector always says, people don’t understand that if they’re off work sick, they’re kind of on their own. 

“You don’t even qualify for the sickness benefit if you have a partner with a job. A lot of people are really exposed in that way.” 

Edmunds says there aren’t a lot of options, beyond private income protection insurance – provided they took out their policy before they contracted the virus – or savings.  

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins was asked last month whether the Government has considered any support for people with long Covid who can no longer work full-time. 

“We obviously keep all of that under review. There is some support available already, but the evidence there is still emerging,” he told reporters. 

While the Government’s proposed income insurance scheme might help in this regard, any legislation is still months away.  

Edmunds says this also throws the spotlight on employers. 

Given the best way to safeguard against Long Covid is to not contract Covid in the first place – and the next best is rest – employers will have to be careful not to rush employees back to work too soon.  

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