An estimated 1.8 million people in the UK are currently experiencing long Covid, official figures have shown, leading to calls for employers to do more to support workers with symptoms.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Covid-19 Infection Survey, showed that 2.8 per cent of the population outside of care homes are experiencing long Covid – the term used to describe Covid symptoms that persist for more than four weeks.
Of those experiencing long Covid, 67 per cent, the equivalent of 1.2 million people, said their symptoms were adversely affecting their ability to undertake day-to-day activities, including one in five (19 per cent, or 346,000 people) who said their day-to-day activities had been limited “a lot".
The survey, which excludes care homes, was conducted over four weeks to 3 April and asked 362,771 people to self-report whether or not they were experiencing long Covid. The results were then extrapolated across the UK population.
Idris Arshad, people and inclusion partner at St Christopher's Hospice, said long Covid often exacerbated existing health problems, and made things “very tough for employees, both physically and mentally.”
He urged employers to encourage line managers to have face-to-face conversations with individuals experiencing long Covid to understand how to better support them, and suggested firms offer extended sick pay, noting that those “who are suffering genuinely and quite badly with long Covid will have money worries.”
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Arshad also emphasised that inviting workers to share their experiences was an important first step: “It sounds simple, but to address something, you've got to know that your employees are going through it.
“[People] have been totally turned upside down because of long Covid,” he said.
The ONS data also showed the rate of long Covid was highest among people aged 35 to 49. Women were also more likely than men to report having long Covid, as were people living in more deprived areas and those with a pre-existing health condition.
Individuals working in certain professions, including social care, teaching, education or health care, were also more likely to report having the condition.
The research also found people experienced a wide variety of symptoms. Fatigue was the most common symptom, mentioned by 51 per cent of those with long Covid, followed by shortness of breath (33 per cent); loss of sense of smell (26 per cent); and difficulty concentrating (23 per cent).
For this reason, Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community urged employers to treat long Covid like any other disability: “Policies to support employees with long Covid are not a one-size-fits-all approach.”