A recent article published by the BMJ (21/09/2321/09/23) used the testimonies of healthcare workers to make clear that covid and long covid should be recognized as occupational diseases, along with all the legal protections that brings. The data also show significantly higher rates of infection and long-term symptoms in patient-facing roles. Yet governments have so far resisted calls, including from the EU, to formally accept the link to occupation.
Around 2 million people in the UK and 17 million in Europe are estimated to have long covid. Research shows most improve within a year, but up to 19% still have persistent symptoms after 2 years. For healthcare workers, around 5% are affected.
Some question why covid remains newsworthy amid other challenges. But millions cannot “move on” from long covid’s impact. Bans on covid data only increase public interest. Legal concepts like the “right to health” offer, in theory, protection. In practice, the law is manipulated to limit rights.
The failure to recognize long covid as an occupational disease is a prime example. Without this status, affected workers lack clear recourse and governments can avoid liability for policy failures. Powerful interests are served, but not public health.
As the data unambiguously demonstrate higher infection rates in healthcare and frontline roles, denying occupational linkages looks increasingly untenable. With millions affected, a rights-based approach is needed, not convenient denial.
Legal mechanisms should empower citizens and healthcare workers, not control them. Long covid’s toll demandsoccupational status, proper support and acknowledgment of policy failures. Justice, not denial, is the only ethical response.