Covid: Estimated 1.1 million people in UK experiencing symptoms of long Covid

Credit: PA

An estimated 1.1 million people in private households in the UK reported symptoms of long Covid, according to new figures.

Almost one in seven people who test positive for Covid-19 are still suffering symptoms at least three months later, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Of these people, an estimated 697,000 first had Covid-19 – or suspected they had Covid-19 – at least 12 weeks before.

Some 70,000 first had the virus or suspected they had the virus at least a year ago.

Young people, those who work in health and social care and people living in the most deprived areas were most likely to suffer longterm symptoms.

The ONS defines long Covid as symptoms persisting more than four weeks after the first suspected episode of Covid-19 and which are not explained by something else.

There is no universally agreed definition, but broadly, symptoms include muscle pain, fatigue, physical slowing down, impaired sleep quality, joint pain or swelling, limb weakness, breathlessness, pain, short-term memory loss, and slowed thinking.

Long Covid was estimated to be adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 674,000 people, with 196,000 reporting that their ability to undertake day-to-day activities had been limited a lot.

The figures were reported over a four-week period to 6 March.

Health and social care workers experienced the highest prevalence rates of self-reported long Covid among employment groups (3.6% and 3.1% respectively), followed by those working in personal services (2.8%), civil service or local government (2.7%) and teaching and education (2.5%).

Many people with long tail coronavirus felt chronic fatigue. Credit: Unsplash

For people living in the most deprived areas the rate was estimated at 2.1%, while for those in the least deprived areas it was 1.4%.

Prevalence was greatest among people aged 35 to 49 (2.5%) and 50 to 69 (2.4%), and was “statistically significantly higher” in females (1.9%) than in males (1.5%), the ONS added.

People who tested positive for Covid-19 are around eight times more likely to suffer prolonged symptoms of long Covid than the general population, the ONS said.

Kitty McFarland has had long covid for 10 months.

Among a sample of more than 20,000 people people who tested positive for Covid-19 between April 26 2020 and March 6 2021, 13.7% continued to experience symptoms for at least 12 weeks.

This was eight times higher than in a control group of people who are unlikely to have had Covid-19.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he is “very worried” about the impact of long Covid and that the Government is investing more in tackling and understanding the condition.

He told Sky News: “We can see the impact in these new statistics shown today and I understand the impact it has had on hundreds of thousands of people.

“It’s one of the many damaging problems of this virus.

“We’re putting more research money into tackling and understanding long Covid because it appears to be several different syndromes.”

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who is chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: “These figures reveal the devastating impact of long Covid across the country and the urgent need for the Government to step up support for those affected.

“For too long, Covid patients have felt like the forgotten victims of this pandemic.

“The Government must end the current postcode lottery of rehabilitation services and ensure all those who need long-term treatment can access it.

“We also need a compensation scheme for key workers with long Covid, who have worked tirelessly on the frontline against the pandemic and are now paying a heavy price.

“The Government must recognise long Covid as an occupational disease and provide formal guidance to employers, to ensure that workers suffering symptoms are treated fairly and given proper support.”

In February, the the World Health Organisation’s Europe director told a briefing that the burden of long Covid “is real and it is significant”.

Dr Hans Kluge said that as the pandemic had evolved, professionals and patients “have mapped a path in the dark” and stories of people with ongoing “debilitating symptoms” have emerged.

“Regrettably, some were met with disbelief, or lack of understanding,” he said, adding that disability following coronavirus infection can linger for months “with severe social, economic, health and occupational consequences”.

He added: “We need to listen and we need to understand. The sufferers of post-Covid conditions need to be heard if we are to understand the long-term consequences and recovery from Covid-19.”