Short Breaks Solution to Long Haul Battle
Post-Covid rehab holidays are destined to become the next destination trend as clinics and wellness spas across Europe target sun-starved Brits struggling with the aftereffects of coronavirus and successive lockdowns.
From Spain to Cyprus, wellness retreats and state-of-the-art medical facilities are offering post-pandemic packages for long-Covid sufferers and the mentally drained.
While some destinations are marketing luxury spa treatments to shake off the trauma of the past 16 months, others provide specialist treatments such as medical ozone therapy and vitamin infusions to treat Brits battling to return to full health following infection.
Frances Geoghegan, owner and founder of award-winning London tour operator, Healing Holidays, told the Express she had seen a marked increase in enquiries from people searching for places to recharge, post-Covid.
She said: “We have had a number of people contacting us who are dealing with a huge amount of anxiety and stress as a direct result of Covid-19.
“It’s clear that for many of them, a period of recovery is needed, in the right environment, that allows them to relax and unwind.”
Throughout the pandemic, studies have shown high levels of relapse in people with pre-existing mental health conditions, as well as an increase in the mental health problems of people with no previous disorders as anxiety and stress levels soar due to the isolation of successive lockdowns.
According to new data from the Office for National Statistics, almost 400,000 people are also suffering physically, more than a year after infection.
Among the most common symptoms experienced by long-Covid sufferers are fatigue, shortness of breath and muscle aches.
Mum-of-two Janey Harvey, from Newark, Notts, has struggled with long Covid for more than a year. With little help from the medical profession at home, she is now waiting for the green light to travel to Cyprus to receive treatment.
“I have seen my own doctor only once. Nobody wants to know,” Janey said.
“I have had tests that all came back clear, and I have been given a rehab programme to follow, but these are basically little old lady exercises. So, everything I have so far done to regain my health – such as homoeopathy and acupuncture – has been off my own back.”
Janey, 51, who works as a freelance educator at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum caught Covid as the UK entered its first lockdown in March 2020. Although she didn’t feel especially ill at the time, months after infection she was sleeping up to 20 hours a day.
As well as chronic fatigue that rendered her unable to do even the smallest household chore, she suffered partial loss of hearing in one ear and her eyesight worsened by 25%. Today, she still suffers from extreme tiredness and her skin is prone to breakouts.
Janey said: “I’ve never had anything like this. It has been utterly terrifying, to be honest, and I spent most of last year in a state of shock. In many ways, it feels like I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Right now, I would try anything to get back to some kind of normality. I also badly need a break, all of which has led me to look at treatments abroad.”
The clinic that Janey plans to go to is one of many in Europe offering post-Covid-19 rehab as part of a growing trend in health tourism. In fact, last month, it was revealed that Cyprus was actually pinning economic recovery on expanding medical tourism, with the long-term goal being to make the island a European hub for patients rehabilitating from surgery and illness.
At a recent conference, government officials announced that medical tourism was one of the pillars of its strategic action plan for enhancing Cyprus tourism for the next decade to 2030. It is now in the process of developing a new legal framework to promote investment into new rehabilitation services on the island.
Among Cyprus’s flagship private clinics is the Neomed Institute in Limassol, the medical centre Janey plans to visit. The clinic claims to have developed “a unique programme” for long covid focusing on gut restoration treatments, including specialised treatments, to restore proper immune function.
Although the treatment packages are intense, with patients required to follow a strict diet, the centre is only a ten-minute drive from the glittering Mediterranean and the island’s golden beaches. The centre also helps with travel and accommodation requirements.
Neomed’s post-Covid-19 rehab programme lasts between 7 and 14 days, depending on the severity of symptoms, and prices start from €500 a week.
Director Suzana Vitti said: “We only recently introduced our post-Covid-19 programme, but we have already managed to help a few local guests.
“We have also taken a number of calls from the UK, and as soon as travel restrictions allow, we very much look forward to doing everything we can to set British long-covid sufferers back on the path to wellness.”
As well as specialised infusions, the Neomed Institute uses Intermittent Hypoxic Hyperoxic Therapy (IHHT), a favourite of top athletes wanting to improve oxygen supply to the body. Given the chronic lung issues associated with Covid, the programme is guided by specialists who assess each patient’s lung capacity during treatment. The clinic also offers psychotherapy sessions.
Suzana said: “We have a number of helpful therapies designed to address the symptoms of long covid, but the immune system is the body’s ultimate protective system, and the beating heart of this system lies in the gut.
“So, gut restoration treatments are the first step – following assessment – to help guests get back to optimum health. If we don’t restore the gut, immune systems will continue to be compromised which further weakens the body making it susceptible to other viruses, pathogens and parasites.”
Although travel to Cyprus is effectively banned due to current restrictions imposed by the UK government, some long-covid Brits have undergone treatment at the clinic, reporting very favourable results.
Fiona Taylor, 63, is an expat living in Paphos. Like Janey, she also caught the virus in March 2020, during a trip to the UK, and she also suffered with chronic fatigue.
“I would get out of bed at my normal time, but then I would sit at the computer and wake up an hour later. I would fall asleep wherever I was, no matter what I was doing,” said Fiona.
“On one occasion, I was driving and became so overwhelmed by tiredness. I thought I better pull over. The next thing I know I’m waking up on the embankment across the other side of the road.
“That panicked me at the time, yet there was no treatment for how I was feeling and I just had to deal with it.”
In May, as Fiona continued to struggle with fatigue, shortness of breath, anxiety and crippling loneliness – her beloved husband Rob died three years ago – she decided to try Neomed’s post-Covid-19 rehab programme.
“I was willing to try anything,” she admitted.
“After an initial consultation with four medics, I had a week of treatments that included ozone therapy, and, I have to say, that after the third ozone treatment I felt like a different person. I had loads more energy and I felt much happier.
“I also had IHHT, magnetic therapies, and vitamin infusions. My main concern was that they would fill me with drugs, which I didn’t like the thought of, but there were no drugs involved. All the therapies were natural and revolved around detoxing the body.
“The week that I finished, I went out on Saturday night, which was unheard of, and the next day all my friends said how full of life I was and how well and bright I looked.
“Now, a few weeks after treatment, I can go out all day, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a huge development for me. It has also lifted my ‘Rob’ mood. I don’t dwell on his loss quite so much. This treatment has made a very real difference to my quality of life.”