Archive for December 30th, 2021

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Ah, Mr Covid, I’ve been expecting you…

December 30, 2021

After almost two years of the pandemic, I’ve finally succumbed to Covid-19 – almost certainly the recently-emerged Omicron variant. Here’s my account of the experience.

How did I get it?

Sophie, the daughter of some close friends, married Ryan on the Saturday before Christmas. This had been arranged for over a year, but before it even happened the event was affected by Covid – around 40 people cancelled, either because they themselves had tested positive, or because of other events, vulnerable relatives or other family commitments which meant they decided it was too risky to attend.

Everyone was asked to lateral flow test (LFT) before the event. I was careful, but when there are 70 people in a confined space, despite the doors and windows being open the whole day (my frozen feet knew about that), if anyone there had already contracted Covid-19 then someone was likely to catch it. Apparently eight of us did, including the bride. I was the last to test positive. My wife, happily, wasn’t one of them.

Sunday involved a walk on Dartmoor with some of the immediate family, with afternoon tea at the bride’s parents’ house, and then on Monday we stopped off in Somerset to see some old friends. I had taken an LFT every day, and all were negative. But on Monday evening, just as we thought we might have got away with it, I started sneezing and feeling unwell.

On Tuesday the symptoms got worse. I still wasn’t sure if it was a cold or Covid. Again that day’s LFT was negative. But the advice if you have symptoms is not to rely on LFTs but to take a PCR test. I had to lie to get one, as the symptoms the NHS website says you have to have to book a test are those of Delta, not Omicron. Professor Tim Spector of Kings College and the Zoe Project has been telling the government this for weeks, but no-one’s listening…

I booked a PCR test for the following day, the earliest I could get, and began self-isolating – Monday would have been day 0 of my 10-day isolation. I decided it was wise for me to sleep in the spare room and to use the guest bathroom. My wife and I started wearing masks in the house if we were in the same space, and we opened a lot of windows. Dinner was taken together, but we sat at opposite ends of the dining table, me nearer the open window.

Positive tests

Day 3 LFT

On Wednesday I didn’t feel particularly unwell, but I went for my PCR. I was still thinking it might just be a cold. The result hadn’t come through 24-hours later. We were intending to go to my sister-in-law’s for Christmas, in less than 48 hours, and we needed some certainty, so I took an LFT. I failed. Strongly positive. I notified our friends in Somerset, Sophie’s parents so they could let the others at Sunday tea know, and my sister-in-law. Fortunately it seems none of my contacts contracted Covid from me. Some of that was due to our taking appropriate measures, and some to serendipity.

Anyway, as soon as I reported a positive test I started receiving very confusing, and contradictory, messages from Test & Trace. For some things, such as isolation, you take the day you developed symptoms as day 1, but for many other things the NHS regards the day of your positive test as day 1. For example you can’t get a COVID vaccination certificate, or a certificate of recovery, for 14 days after the date of your positive PCR test (which at this point I didn’t have). Also I got a very long and complex questionnaire to complete…

Your self-isolation period ends 10 days after the onset of symptoms, unless you enter your positive test details into the NHS Covid app, which tells you it’s 10 days after the positive test. And then the government says you can be released from isolation if you pass two LFTs, 24 hours apart, the first no earlier than day 6. However once you’ve tested positive and have symptoms you can’t order LFTs – the website says you have to have a PCR test instead. But since I was already expecting to test positive, taking another PCR would have been pointless, they are so sensitive that I’m going to test positive for several days, possibly weeks, to come.

Finally, late on Thursday, I received confirmation of my positive PCR test. So our Christmas was, for the second year running, to be spent in lockdown.

By Friday I was feeling quite unwell, and consuming paracetamol tablets like they were going out of fashion. Symptoms were similar to a bout of flu: fever, aching muscles, shivering and sensitive skin. But no runny nose or congestion. I also found my sense of smell and taste compromised – not completely gone, but certainly changed.

Christmas dinner was a subdued affair, without much alcohol (I didn’t fancy it, and it didn’t taste right). Sunday was day 6, so I thought I’d try the early-release protocol and take an LFT (we did have a few LFTs left). Still failed.

Also one type of LFT we’d got, that comes in a green box, is terrible. The nozzle of the sample tube is supplied separately and has a little filter in it. When you insert the nozzle into the tube and squeeze to get four drops onto the LFT itself, the pressure sometimes forces the nozzle out, and squirts the liquid all over your hands and the work surface, but not into the LFT. We lost two of seven tests this way. Not good when they’re so hard to get hold of!

Image of government website showing there are no lateral flow tests available for home delivery

Throughout this, as we’re both double-jabbed and boosted, my wife has been allowed to leave the house and carry on a normal life provided she passes an LFT each day. She has remained negative throughout; so clearly our living largely separately, ventilating the house and wearing masks worked.

Was it Omicron?

Probably. Not all PCR tests are genetically sequenced, and it seems mine wasn’t as I’ve had no confirmation of which variant I contracted, but at the time of my infection Omicron was by far the more prevalent variant in England, and given that I’m double-jabbed and boosted, and therefore incredibly unlikely to contract Delta, and further given the relatively mild nature of my infection, it was almost certainly Omicron.

When was I released from isolation?

Not until midnight on day 10. In theory if I’d had a negative LFT on days 6 and 7, with the tests at least 24 hours apart, I could have been released on day 7 (Monday), but I’ve continued to test positive up to, and including, day 10. If I recall correctly, shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic back in early 2020 I’m sure we were told not to retest for 90 days after we’d contracted the virus as it would still probably give a positive test. I admit this is a different strain, but still it seems to me that all Health Secretary Sajid Javid has achieved by announcing this day 7 “test to release” strategy is unnecessarily increased the demand for LFTs when few are likely to pass these tests. It looks like just a PR stunt to pacify businesses who are complaining about the length of time their staff are absent.

Furthermore the partner, provided they’re double-jabbed, being able to remain at large provided they are negative on an LFT each day that the infected person is in isolation has further upped the demand for LFTs.

Demand for LFTs

At the current rate of 180,000 infections a day, each infected person requires at least three LFTs (one to test positive in the first place, plus two to release), and their partner requires seven. So each infected person is likely to require 10 LFTs. That’s an increase in demand of 1.8m tests a day! In addition we’re all being urged to take an LFT before going out or mingling with others, then it’s no wonder there’s a shortage of LFTs in the UK at the moment!

Any benefits?

I don’t recommend catching Covid to achieve this, but I lost half a stone (7 pounds) in weight over the 10 days…

And, as one of my friends pointed out, I’m now as immune to Covid as it’s possible to be, with three vaccinations and the Omicron antibodies it’s extremely unlikely I’m going to catch Covid again for several months, or until another, different, strain emerges.