Changing the official list of coronavirus symptoms two years too late is a political decision

Boris Johnson

After two years of inaction and incompetence, the government has finally changed the list of coronavirus (Covid-19) symptoms that the public should look out for. The NHS now lists twelve possible symptoms on its website. At the beginning of the pandemic, it listed just two symptoms, which it then updated to three symptoms. This makes it one of the most woefully incomplete symptom lists of any country in the world.

Back in April 2020, I questioned the government’s motives for failing to provide the public with an accurate list of Covid-19 symptoms. In July 2021 I questioned why the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) still refused to update the list.

It’s all about timing

It’s likely to be no coincidence that the government changed the list just days after ditching free coronavirus testing for the public, and after it announced that people no longer need to self-isolate. It is a political decision to consistently ignore two years of advice from prominent scientists.

If the NHS advice had been this extensive over the last two years, more of the public would have been eligible for a free PCR test. More people wouldn’t have dismissed their symptoms as “just a cold”. This would, most likely, have increased the official coronavirus figures in the country. According to the latest figures, our small island has had the fifth highest number of coronavirus cases in the world so far, despite being the 21st most populated. Imagine if the government had given us the proper advice: our rates would probably have shot up even further. This would, of course, have looked like a massive failing for Boris Johnson. And it would have been even more proof of what we already know: he has blundered at every step of the pandemic.

It would also have ground a number of businesses to a halt, as more people would have had to take time off work, and forced corporations to grant more sick leave. But the Tory government’s priority is profit, no matter the cost. To keep the economy running, you need workers. And it seems that in order to keep workers working, the government withheld information on symptoms. This comes on top of the fact that the government flouted WHO guidelines on how long to quarantine for.

Now, even though more people will fit the NHS’s symptom-checker, it’s unlikely to affect our confirmed coronavirus figures. Because at a time when people are struggling to pay to heat their house or to boil their potatoes, they’re not likely to pay for a coronavirus test.

Now that nobody is legally obliged to self-isolate, the NHS is advising the public that:

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You can go back to your normal activities when you feel better or do not have a high temperature.

This vague advice is likely to see corporations cracking down on employees who need to take more than a few days off work. It’s also likely to see unfair – but perfectly legal – dismissals.

The government keeps putting lives at risk

The Canary contacted the DHSC for comment, but the government department told us to contact the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). A UKHSA spokesperson said:

The main symptoms remain a fever, a new or continuous cough and/or a loss of taste and smell. Since the start of the pandemic we have acknowledged COVID-19 has a much longer list of symptoms. Symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite, sore throat, headache, nasal congestion and runny nose have been included in Government guidance since 2020.

At a time when coronavirus rates are at a record high, and when ICU admissions are rising once again, the government continues to act irresponsibly. It continues to prioritise the economy and corporate wealth over the country’s most vulnerable people. This comes as absolutely no surprise. With the impending Covid-19 Inquiry, some might be hopeful that the government will be held accountable for the way it has handled the pandemic. But don’t hold your breath.

Featured image via via Alan Santos/PR under Creative Commons 2.0 license, resized to 770 x 403 px

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