Millions of often working-age people across the UK are still experiencing long-term, potentially debilitating, health symptoms following a Covid-19 infection – but it is possible the numbers with long Covid are beginning to plateau or even reduce.
According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), an estimated 2.1 million people in the UK were experiencing long Covid symptoms as of December.
However, this is down on the 2.3 million people with long Covid the ONS reported in October. The 2.1 million figure echoes the numbers reported by the ONS in November but, with December’s figure being slightly up at 2.2 million, it is probably too early to say with confidence whether this is a sign of a longer term stabilisation.
The latest ONS figures do, however, add to the growing body of evidence that long Covid can severely affect the ability of people to be or remain in work.
Long Covid symptoms were adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 1.6 million people, 76% of those with self-reported long Covid, the statistics body said.
Nearly a fifth (18% or 389,000 people) reported that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”, it added.
Fatigue continued to be the most common self-reported symptom of long Covid (71%), followed by difficulty concentrating (49%), shortness of breath (47%) and muscle ache (46%).
As a proportion of the UK population, the prevalence of self-reported long Covid was greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, said the ONS.
Others reporting higher rates included females, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, those aged 16 years and over who were not working and not looking for work, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability, it added.
Research in November by the jobs website Indeed concluded that more than three-quarters of people (78%) with long Covid had been forced either to stop, pause, reduce or change their work. The ONS, too, has highlighted that long Covid is contributing to a surge of people, especially those aged over 50, to leave or fall out of the workforce, with as many as a quarter of working-age people with long Covid not in work.
However, the role of occupational health professionals in managing rehabilitation back into work following long Covid is also increasingly being recognised.