Experts have predicted there will be mounting pressure on governments and businesses to recognise Covid-19 as a chronic illness, as cases skyrocket and scientists examine how Long Covid could impact people for the months and years to come.
An estimated one million people will be living with a Covid diagnosis within days, as cases across Australia’s eastern states balloon into the tens of thousands daily.
The number of people with Covid will soon outgrow those with lung disease and cancer, with a forecast one in 20 NSW and Victorian residents already contracting the virus.
It’s believed that number alone could swing the health vote at upcoming Federal and State elections, according Troy Bilsborough from Provocate.
Mr Bilsborough, the managing director of the C-suite strategy group, said the surge in cases would put health issues front and centre in upcoming elections, placing pressure on both businesses and governments to treat Covid as a chronic illness.
“The big risk for incumbent governments in 2022 is that Australian households directly impacted by a Covid diagnosis vote based on what their health, not their head, says,” he said.
“One million Australians being diagnosed with Covid means the virus itself has gone mainstream and it risks leaving a lasting legacy in voters’ minds once Omicron’s been and gone.”
Threats to health and the economy are dominating Australian concerns about federal leadership in the lead-up to the Federal election, which will be held on or before May 21.
While the opposition led polls in 2021, Scott Morrison still takes place as preferred prime minister – but there is no certainty in the midst of the continuing pandemic.
With healthcare influencing more votes than any other issue at the last election, there is continued pressure on governments to put in place solid policies.
The issue has been thrust to the forefront of Australian politics, with researchers last month revealing three-quarters of Covid-sufferers had lingering symptoms almost five months after recovering from the illness.
The findings from the research monitored the mental and physical health of 59 people who were infected during the first wave.
The most common symptoms to linger included fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, limb weakness, loss of appetite and shortness of breath.
The researchers also discovered higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress within the participants.
Christine Walker, from the Chronic Illness Alliance, said she believed Long Covid could pose huge issues moving forward.
“I’ve certainly heard about people who had Covid a year ago and are still struggling,” Ms Walker said.
“It’s the world’s biggest experiment we’re all in and how we fare with it, what is the result – nobody knows.”
Ms Walker said governments had a tendency to cast aside those with a chronic illness and was concerned the issue would continue to be neglected.
“Generally people with chronic illnesses are dealt with in health policy as deficit model – they are seen as being actual drains on the economy,” she said.
“Right now there isn’t a national disaster plan to deal with viruses, and we know even once we get over Covid, there will be other epidemics.”
Mr Bilsborough said prior to Christmas, Covid had largely been a theoretical threat for most Australians, meaning governments were being judged on their competency as emergency and economic managers, not their healthcare credentials.
He warned governments to be careful transitioning their sales pitch to Covid being akin to a common cold too quickly or risk alienating voters further, particularly after the WHO warned labelling Omicron mild is a “mistake”.
“The fact there’s now more cases of Covid than other key chronic health issues like cancer, kidney and lung disease almost guarantees it will feature as a key issue in the minds of voters in 2022,” he said.
“Governments and business must navigate the next few months carefully and gently, particularly given the predicted increase in Long Covid claims and how any alleged chronic illness will be treated, funded and supported under Medicare, private health, social services and industrial law.”