Covid-19 'long-haulers', still suffering months on from infection, urge Kiwis to get vaccinated

As New Zealand prepares to ramp up its Covid-19 vaccination programme to the rest of the population in the coming months, two people who contracted the virus and are still feeling its effects months on are urging Kiwis to get the jab. 

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Helena Power and Freya Sawbridge, who both caught the virus months ago, warn Covid-19 isn’t going to disappear from the world. Source: Breakfast

Covid-19 “long-hauler” Helena Power, 27, tested positive for the UK variant of the virus in London in December. She was taken to hospital at the time, but was discharged a few hours later because of the lack of beds. 

She returned to New Zealand in February. She can no longer pass on the virus. But, last week, her condition deteriorated once more. She was admitted to North Shore Hospital. 

Power was discharged for two hours to speak to Breakfast this morning, where she revealed fluid had been building up around her heart and lungs. 

“When I was sick initially, it was like a flu. I lost taste, smell, appetite and had shortness of breath.”

Power said she didn’t realise at first how bad her illness was. But months on, despite being an otherwise fit 27-year-old with no conditions prior to Covid-19, she still feels fatigued and nauseous. 

While the doctors that have been treating her are “amazing”, she said, “ultimately, they’re like, 'We really care and we want to show support, but we don’t know what to do [because] there’s no research on this.'"

Covid-19 had also paused her career and plans overseas. Power said she wasn’t sure how long it would take until she recovered, if at all. 

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Her message to people is that “Covid is not going anywhere”. 

“It’s not going to be real in New Zealand that you’re going to be Covid-free forever. At some point they’re going to vaccinate more or less everybody and the country will open,” Power said.

“Covid is not going anywhere. It’s just how we deal with it will be different. 

“So, if you don’t want to get the vaccine, fine. But, what about the people around you? My friends in England haven’t seen their grandparents and their family in a year and a half. Their parents have died. Their grandparents have died. 

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“That could be you, here in New Zealand, if you don’t decide to vaccinate and the country opens up. You’re not going to be safe … It doesn’t matter your age.”

Recovery not immediate for many 

Freya Sawbridge, who contracted Covid-19 in March last year and had experienced symptoms for seven months afterward, started the New Zealand Covid Long-Haulers Facebook group for people in a similar position. 

“Death’s the only reference point for the severity of the pandemic. But studies show between 10 and 30 per cent of everyone who gets Covid will develop some form of long-term sickness,” she said.

She said she had mild symptoms for two weeks after first contracting the virus, then made what she felt was a “dramatic recovery”. But four days later, she relapsed and has experienced some symptoms since then. 

Sawbridge said she and many young people who got Covid-19 felt disbelief, because they believed they were otherwise healthy and fit. 

“It’s like a grief … When you get so chronically ill, your whole body is taken from you and you can’t do anything about it.”

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Researchers say the symptoms mirror a debilitating condition seen in other viruses. Source: 1 NEWS

Of the more than 200 people on her Facebook group, only her and another person had “recovered” for the most part, Sawbridge said. 

But she still has no smell and taste. 

“[Covid-19 is] absolutely horrible. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” she said. 

“It’s really serious, especially for young people. Get vaccinated.”