The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for countries to take a more “sustained” approach to tackling long Covid, which it has branded a “very serious” crisis.
The call by WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu has followed figures being released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that have shown record numbers of UK workers are no longer looking for work because of long-term sickness.
Dr Ghebreyesus, writing in The Guardian, said: “While the pandemic has changed dramatically due to the introduction of many lifesaving tools, and there is light at the end of the tunnel, the impact of long Covid for all countries is very serious and needs immediate and sustained action equivalent to its scale.”
He urged countries and governments to “seriously ramp up” both research into the condition and access to care for those affected.
“Early in the pandemic, it was important for overwhelmed health systems to focus all of their life saving efforts on Covid-19 patients presenting with acute infection,” he said.
“However, it is critical for governments to invest long-term in their health system and workers and make a plan now for dealing with long Covid,” he added.
The ONS figures, meanwhile, have suggested that the economic inactivity rate – which measures the proportion of people aged between 16 and 64 not looking for work – increased to 21.7% in the June to August period.
The number of those inactive because they are long-term sick hit a record high of nearly 2.5 million, it added.
This trend isn’t solely down to long Covid, with the impact of NHS waits – now at another record of seven million – also playing an important part in people either having to be off work long term or fall out of the labour market completely.
However, with as many as one in 20 people suffering long-term effects after Covid, according to a new study, it is clearly playing an important contributory role.
The long Covid in Scotland study, led by the University of Glasgow, found that long Covid effects were more likely to occur after severe infections requiring hospitalisation.
The research also showed older women from deprived communities were most at risk.
Professor Jill Pell, professor of public health at the University of Glasgow, who led the study, said; “While most people recover quickly and completely after infection with Covid-19, some people develop a wide variety of long-term problems. Therefore, understanding long-Covid is essential to inform health and social care support.”