Long Covid numbers hit 2 million with figure expected to keep rising as UK cases soar

Some 2 million people in the UK are likely to be suffering from long Covid with scientists expecting the number to carry on growing as cases remain high.

This includes 807,000 people (43 per cent) who first had Covid-19, or suspected they had the virus, at least one year ago, and 403,000 people (21 per cent) at least two years previously. Of the total number 405,000 people (21 per cent) first had, or suspected they had, Covid-19 less than 12 weeks previously and 1.4 million people (74 per cent) at least 12 weeks previously.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are based on self-reported long Covid from a representative sample of people in private households. Long Covid is defined as symptoms continuing for more than four weeks after the first suspected infection that were not explained by something else.

Of people with self-reported long Covid, 570,000 (29 per cent) first had Covid-19 before Alpha became the main variant. This figure was 237,000 (12 per cent) in the Alpha period, 394,000 (20 per cent) in the Delta period, and 642,000 (33 per cent) in the Omicron period.

Long Covid symptoms adversely affect the day-to-day activities of 1.4 million people with 409,000 reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”.

Fatigue continued to be the most common symptom reported as part of individuals’ experience of long Covid (56 per cent) of those with self-reported long Covid), followed by shortness of breath (31 per cent), loss of smell (22 per cent), and muscle ache (21 per cent) hundred).

As a proportion of the UK population, the prevalence of self-reported long Covid was greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, females, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, health care, or teaching and education, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability.

The NHS has established 69 assessment centers which are taking referrals from GPs for people experiencing brain fog, anxiety, depression, breathlessness, fatigue and other debilitating symptoms of long Covid.

However, a report published in January by MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee found there are issues with the capacity of secondary care long Covid support clinics, workforce availability, services for children with long Covid, and understanding of long Covid in primary care. Even after gaining access to a long Covid assessment service, navigating the system can be “profoundly bewildering”, they found.

A total of 2.3 million people in private households are estimated to have had Covid-19 at the end of June, up 32 per cent from a week earlier, according to the ONS. This is the highest estimate for total infections since late April, but is still some way below the record high of 4.9 million seen at the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave at the end of March.

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the school of medicine at the University of Leeds, said: “This large increase in infections was sadly predictable given the past weeks showing the growth advantage of BA4/5 over BA2 and the R value remaining above 1 across the country. In the absence of any population scale mitigations, we are left relying upon vaccination to prevent infection and severe disease.

“Whilst the latter is largely successfully achieved, there remains a considerable minority for whom this does not apply, plus we should remember that any severity of infection can lead to long Covid. This is of particular concern given the massive prevalence and antibody evasiveness of Omicron.”

Leave a Comment