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Transcript: Your Morning Agenda with Natarsha Belling

January 04, 2021


SUBJECTS: Lasting impacts of COVID; Long COVID sufferers.

NATARSHA BELLING: Victorian MP Andrew Giles is so concerned about the rising number of sufferers experiencing long term side effects. He's now calling for more government support. He wants a better long term strategy that looks into the lasting impacts of COVID and ensuring survivors get the financial and emotional support they need. Thanks so much for joining us, Andrew.

ANDREW GILES, MEMBER FOR SCULLIN: Great to be with you, Tarsh.

BELLING: So why are you calling for better support of people that are suffering long term consequences of COVID-19?

GILES: Well I'm concerned that too many of us think that COVID ends when someone's discharged from hospital and that's clearly not the case. There is an increasing body of evidence that suggests for many people, they suffer long COVID which may be one syndrome or perhaps a number of syndromes, that can be incredibly debilitating and it's something we just don't know enough about. Dr. Anthony Fauci is America's top diseases expert we've heard a lot about and a lot from lately, told a webinar the other day that the unknown effects of long COVID is a major concern right now and that's something that I'm very concerned about.

BELLING: And I understand you also are very interested in this because a mate of yours Ben, he's a long term sufferer as well?

GILES: Yeah, and I think it's important to tell these stories, I mean Anna's is incredibly effective, and for me, understanding that this may affect thousands of people is one thing, but being able to appreciate the personal consequences on an individual is something that will be in my view a big spur to action. I think about Ben who contracted COVID in March.

On one level was better in July, but has gotten no better since then and since then has been living a really challenging life where he can't exercise, doesn't know from one day to the next whether he'll be, at best, just lethargic and tired or at worst unable to get off his back and understanding the challenge that he faces and his anxiety that he feels he may not get any better than this for six months. Now the impact on him is enormous but something he said to me Tarsh has really struck me and that's the nature of his work in professional services, means he can keep working in keep connecting to work, which is great for his well being and also enables him to earn an income, but there are many, many others who may work in construction or in retail, who wouldn't be able to do this and Ben asked me to think about these people and that's something that I'm very keen to talk about as well.

BELLING: Andrew, I immediately think about these people, Anna was very adamant that she would not be able to work in a full time capacity again. Where does that leave all of these people that can't return to their former jobs that's a massive issue financially for these people?

GILES: Well it's a huge issue for those people and I think Tarsh for our country as well. We talk a lot about the recovery and I've been talking along with my colleagues about the need to make sure that our recovery doesn't leave anyone behind and long haulers are a classic group that we can't allow to be left behind, which means we've got to make sure that we have an awareness that they are there, believe that they exist and offer support to them, it means we've got to make sure that we conduct research to understand exactly what's going on. And when it comes to them being able to support themselves, we need to think about what's required in the workplace as well.

BELLING: Then you make an excellent point they're referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci the US top infectious diseases expert, now he praised Australia in leading the world in what we have done with smashing the COVID-19 curve and how we've offered financial support via the government through JobKeeper JobSeeker, but what financial support would you like to see for these long haulers?

GILES: Well, this is a complicated question and, you know, one person's circumstances are going to be the same as others, but I think we do need to understand that there'll be a significant number of Australians whose capacity to be in the workforce will be affected by this. And if we're talking about changes to our industrial relations system. Let's just not talk about support for businesses, let's make sure that we get the right support for every worker to be able to continue to go about their work and return to work on their terms if they are affected by this.

BELLING: Andrew, you mentioned earlier about the long haulers as there's increasingly concerning data coming out from both the US and UK about long term impacts on children that have suffered COVID-19, is that something that you're concerned about? Because if you can track COVID when you're in your 70s and 80s, that's a different scenario to when you're contracting it when you're seven or eight, and you could have long term organ issues or long term damage to your heart or lungs.

GILES: Yeah, it is concerning and I guess I'd make a couple of points. I think the median age from the UK evidence of people affected by long COVID is 45 and that to me at any rate seems relatively young and the condition seems to persist for quite some time. And of course as you say when we're talking about children, it's very very concerning and for me that anxiety is exacerbated by the fact that we just don't know enough about this. And that really goes to show how critical I think it is that we get the research done so that we understand what is likely to happen and of course what sort of interventions we might be able to put in place to support children and younger people who are long haulers.

BELLING: So what would you like to see happen from now, Andrew?

GILES: Look I think there's three things for me. The first one is awareness and understanding to make clear to people who are going through this, or the friends and family people are going through this, that they're not alone, that there are people on their side you're going to make the case to make sure that they don't get left behind when, perhaps, as we hope, 2020 and COVID-19 are forgotten about as a daily concern. The second question is to make sure that we focus our research on understanding exactly what long COVID is and what can be done about it. The last thing is to make sure that these people get the support they need to continue to lead lives that involve economic activity and participation in the workplace, as well as support to do the other bits and pieces that make their lives, worth living on their terms, the example like Anna, and my friend Ben have made so clear.

BELLING: Important conversation we need to have in this country, Andrew thank you very much for joining us.

GILES: Great chatting with you.