'One in five' suffer from long Covid, ONS estimate

16 December 2020, 11:51 | Updated: 16 December 2020, 14:39

10 percent of respondents still had symptoms after 12 weeks or longer.
10 percent of respondents still had symptoms after 12 weeks or longer. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

One in five people who test positive for Covid-19 have symptoms for longer than 5 weeks, with one in 10 still suffering after 12 weeks, according to new estimates.

In one of the first indications of how widespread so-called ‘long Covid’ is in the UK, the Office for National Statistics have released worrying new figures.

The government described the figures as "a clear reminder to the public that COVID-19 is indiscriminate and they should continue to follow the rules".

Using a nationally representative sample of the population, the ONS estimated that around 21 percent of respondents who had tested positive for Covid-19 still had symptoms after five weeks.

The most commonly reported symptoms after five weeks were fatigue, a cough or a headache.

Meanwhile, 10 percent of respondents reported having symptoms for 12 weeks or longer.

Read more: 'Long covid' sufferers tell LBC of battling debilitating symptoms that last for months

These estimates are higher than those from a King’s College London study in September, which found that around five percent of people had symptoms continuing for eight weeks or more.

The ONS also estimated that as of late November, around 186,000 people were living in the UK with symptoms that had lasted for five to 12 weeks.

Read more: Half of UK could have to wait until 2022 for Covid-19 vaccine

Read more: Tough Tier 3 Covid-19 restrictions come into force across London

Responding to the figures, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told LBC: “For people of all ages there has been a lasting and debilitating impact from long COVID, irrespective of the seriousness of the initial symptoms.

"This should be a clear reminder to the public that COVID-19 is indiscriminate and they should continue to follow the rules including hands, face and space."

They added: “We are committed to investing in research and support for long COVID-19 including £10 million for specialist NHS clinics with 65 already opened around the country to help medical experts to assess, diagnose and treat thousands of people.”

The data adds to growing warnings that despite a Covid vaccine being rolled out, the health impacts of coronavirus on the UK population are likely to continue.

In September, speaking on LBC radio, Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned: "Long Covid... is prevalent among younger people."

While some people have a mild form of illness from Covid-19, others have been seriously affected with long Covid.

People affected with long-term symptoms have described how they have been previously fit and healthy and now they are confined to a wheelchair.

Breathlessness and fatigue have been reported by long-term sufferers and some have described how doing shopping or climbing stairs can leave them bed-ridden for days.

Read more: Long Covid: 'The blood in me feels like it's hot'

Read more: Health researchers issue warning over 'debilitating' effects of long covid

The ONS noted that their “analysis is very much a work in progress” and will be updating their estimates in 2021 with more data.

A small study published in October from the National Institute for Health Research, which is largely funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, suggested that long Covid may in fact be four different syndromes.

These are permanent organ damage to the lungs and heart, post-intensive-care syndrome, post-viral fatigue syndrome and continuing Covid-19 symptoms.