In April 2022, a charity called Long Covid Kids sent out an email to all schools to ‘shine a light’ on what they term Post Covid Syndrome. The 140-page report details the harrowing effects of Long Covid on children’s physical and mental health. It also details their four main mission statements; to raise awareness, provide support, instigate research into Long Covid and provide action in the form of campaigns to mitigate the risks of Covid and ‘place wellbeing at the heart of education’.
By Will Burns
To bolster their claims about the magnitude of Long Covid, the charity quotes the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to show that the number of children with Long Covid is increasing and there are currently 119,000 children suffering for as long as 12 months after infection. This equates to 1% of primary school-aged children and 2.7% of secondary-aged children.
Part of their awareness campaign includes links to videos, posters and blogs to help children and parents cope with Long Covid. Their website has images of children in wheelchairs wearing Long Covid Kids t-shirts and lying on beds looking sickly and forlorn.
They also publish images that highlight the words children use to describe living with Long Covid. Silhouettes of animals are filled with the harrowing words of suffering children. The adjectives include ill, depressed, angry, helpless, broken and anxious. They also described that it is draining, exhausting, tiring, scary, horrible and never-ending.
When the charity give details about the disease itself, they give an incredibly long list of symptoms. Page-13 of the report titled ‘Five ways that Sars-Cov-2 is different to flu’, describes how Covid is not just a respiratory disease. Apparently, Covid can also affect organs. It states that young, fit people who had mild or asymptomatic infection could still suffer from myocarditis. It also states that Covid can trigger other conditions such as blood clots, inflammation and diabetes and long-term neuro-cognitive dysfunction.
Page-22 lists a whole host of Long Covid symptoms in children that include brain fog, headaches, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, swollen glands, skin rashes, joint and muscle pain, swelling, fatigue. Although many diseases can share symptoms – these are also common symptoms of HIV/AIDS.
Interestingly, they also describe self-harm and suicidal thoughts as a symptom of Long Covid.
These children and their parents are undoubtedly going through a horrendous time and it is important that charities are looking out for them. However, there is debate about their diagnosis as well as the legitimacy of the existence of Long Covid.
The British Medical Journal claim there are studies which highlight the difficulty of accurately determining Long Covid in children. They also argue the need for further studies because reports suggest that more than half of children who did not have covid-19 experienced symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and concentration difficulties.
Furthermore, a large study in the UK found that nearly all symptoms reported by children who tested positive for Covid were also reported by those who tested negative. There was also no differences reported between the two groups in mental health, overall wellbeing, or impairment of activities. Other studies with control groups have also reported minimal differences in symptoms between children with Covid infection and those without.
A further challenge in diagnosing Long Covid is the shared similarities between the symptoms of depression. According to WebMD, symptoms of depression can include anger, sadness, trouble concentrating, fatigue, physical complaints (such as stomach-aches and headaches), impaired thinking or concentration and thoughts of death or suicide.
It is undeniable that many children are going through terrible suffering and hardship. They deserve all the support they can get and Long Covid Kids could be a helpful part of this. But are they being given the correct support for their condition?
Could it be more likely that children diagnosed with Long Covid are actually depressed or showing symptoms of abuse? After all, serious child harm cases in England rose by 20% during the pandemic. According to The Guardian, The Local Government Association (LGA) called the rise “harrowing and a huge cause for concern”. There was also a sharp rise in the need for foster places during the pandemic, with social service referrals increasing by up to 40% in some areas.
Even the chief inspector of schools was quoted in The Guardian as saying that nearly every child in England suffered because of school closures, especially vulnerable children who “disappeared from teachers’ line of sight”. She also acknowledged that school closures made some children “less safe” and the disruption of education, routine, and sport activities “led some children to develop physical and mental health problems” as well as loneliness, boredom and misery.
It was clearly not a good time for many children. Local parks, libraries, beaches and even nature reserves were shut down. They missed out on seeing friends and family. They missed seeing people’s faces. They were banned from singing and even hugging their friends in school.
Children were subject to relentless government propaganda and shaming about how they could be a danger to the elderly or vulnerable. They were told to wash their hands repeatedly, not go near people or touch things that other people had touched.
How many had to see their parents fighting because they had lost their livelihoods? How many were left home alone to fend for themselves? How many were abused because the perpetrator knew no one would see the bruises?
None of this seems to count if you blame it all on Long Covid.
After all, wrongly diagnosing a child with Long Covid could cause serious long-term harm. If they are actually suffering depression or abuse, they may not get the psychological support they need.
The charity is right to call for more research into Long Covid because it could be a legitimate cause of suffering. However, it should not be used as a convenient scapegoat for health problems and mental illness now prevailing throughout society.
The charity quotes Nelson Mandela describing children as “our greatest treasure and our future” surmising that “the true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children”.
Yet the charity neglects to mention how cruel, neglectful and abusive the UK government have been in their treatment of children during the pandemic.
One day, the child victims of state-sanctioned abuse will be big enough and brave enough to hold this government accountable. Until then, we must fight for them.