UK long Covid cases reach 1.7 million in record high, ONS estimates show

And nearly 800,000 people have lived with the condition for more than a year, according to the Office for National Statistics

Samuel Lovett
Science Correspondent
Thursday 07 April 2022 10:50
Comments

The number of people in the UK suspected to be living with long Covid has risen to 1.7 million in a new record high, the latest data show.

Estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that, as of 5 March, nearly 3 per cent of the population were suffering from persistent Covid symptoms four weeks after an infection.

It marks a rise from February’s figures, when 1.5 million were believed to have the condition.

The number of people who have lived with long Covid for more than a year has also risen, according to the ONS, from 685,000 to 784,000 - an increase of 14.4 per cent.

And for the first time, the ONS has revealed that 74,000 people in the UK have been suffering from the condition for at least two years.

The ONS said that its estimates were based on self-reported long Covid among study participants, rather than clinical diagnoses.

The rising burden of long Covid has been fuelled by the Omicron wave, which swept across the UK during the winter, leading to record infection levels.

Of the 1.7 people with self-reported long Covid, 334,000 were first infected during the Omicron phase. More than half a million first acquired Covid-19 before Alpha became the main variant.

Long Covid symptoms adversely affected the day-to-day activities of 1.1 million people (67 per cent), the ONS said, with 322,000 (or 19 per cent) reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”.

Fatigue continues to be the most common symptom reported (51 per cent), followed by shortness of breath (34 per cent), loss of smell (28 per cent), and muscle ache (24 per cent).

Long Covid was found to be most prevalent in people aged 35 to 69 years, women, individuals living in more deprived areas, those working in healthcare, social care, or teaching and education, and patients with another activity-limiting health condition or disability, the ONS said.

Commenting on the latest estimates, Layla Moran MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: “Today’s long Covid statistics are a stark reminder that the government’s plan to live with covid inevitably means living with long Covid, and if ministers fail to fully grasp the enormity of this challenge now, the workforce challenges impacting businesses and public services will only get worse.

“The government must rise to this moment and increase research funding to develop effective treatments for this often debilitating condition.”

Despite the mounting threat posed by the condition, with research under way to better understand how it develops and which groups are more vulnerable, efforts to treat patients are stalling.

The NHS has established a network of long Covid clinics but the latest data show that, between 20 December and 16 January, only 4,401 patients in England received “specialist assessments” at these centres.

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