Covid-19 has not appeared much in the national news agenda of late, and on the occasions that it has featured the focus has been, perhaps understandably, on the rising number of new infections now being recorded.
Yet the number of Long Covid sufferers – the longer form of Covid symptoms – is still receiving far less attention. This is unfortunate, not least because those numbers are very significant indeed, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures published this morning suggesting that more than 2 million people are experiencing symptoms as of the 4th June 2022.
This is, of course, primarily a problem for those unlucky individuals suffering from Long Covid, but by extension it is also potentially a problem for employers too. For Long Covid conditions are most likely to be experienced in people of working age (those aged between 35 – 69).
The latest figures
So what are the latest figures, and how long might Long Covid symptoms last?
The 2 million figure relates to those who have experienced symptoms for 4 weeks or more, and the longer-term illness figures are also significant.
Of the above, 1.4 million people had experienced Long Covid for at least 12 weeks, 807,000 for a year or longer, and an astonishing 403,000 for two years or more.
It is worth noting that those who have had the condition for a year or longer must – by definition – have contracted their initial infection before June 2021, prior to much of the Delta wave and months before Omicron materialised. The sheer number of infections in these later mutations of the virus may well result in even higher numbers of lengthy Long Covid cases later this year.
A growing problem
That said, this month’s data shows a rather unexpected – yet very welcome – decrease in those year-long cases, which have previously been trending only upwards.
The numbers suffering for a year of longer (based on ONS releases since the start of 2022):
- January 2022: 506,000
- February 2022: 554,000
- March 2022: 685,000
- April 2022: 784,000
- May 2022: 791,000
- June 2022: 826,000
- July 2022 807,000
This might be a response to vaccine protections (which were well underway by this time last year), although it could equally be nothing but a short-term blip in the data.
Whereas the two-year figures (which were first recorded in March this year) are starting to look very concerning indeed:
- April 2022: 74,000
- May 2022: 235,000
- June 2022: 376,000
- July 2022: 403,000
Yet it should not be assumed that all the above cases are from the working age population, nor should it be expected that all these cases are so severe to require absence from the workplace.
For the reality is that Long Covid can take many forms, ranging from the mild and merely inconvenient to those symptoms which are extreme and entirely debilitating. That said, around 1.4 million of the headline 2 million sufferers admitted that Long Covid adversely affected their day-to-day activities, with some 409,000 reporting that those activities were “limited a lot” by their symptoms.
It therefore appears likely that many employers will encounter employee absence and/or reduced productivity as a result of Long Covid in the months and years ahead.
Some good news
There is however some good news.
For as the case numbers climb, so too does the knowledge and understanding of how to best treat Long Covid conditions.
There are now two websites set up by the NHS specifically addressing this issue:
And, perhaps more significantly, several providers in the employee benefits space (both private healthcare insurers and Group Income Protection providers) are now offering Covid “support” pathways and treatments too.
The reality is that as time progresses many more workforces are likely to encounter long-term employee absence and productivity issues linked to Long Covid. So new and additional support is something employers should now be actively considering.
For more information on any of the above, please contact your usual Partners& Consultant or the Partners& Wellbeing Health and Protection team via firstname.lastname@example.org. or on 03300 940177.