Record 1.3million Britons claimed they had long Covid BEFORE Omicron surge, official data shows

  • Office of National Statistics estimates a record 2% of Britons have long Covid 
  • Of these, 506,000 were calculated to have had the condition for at least a year 
  • Finding is based on self-reporting long Covid, meaning they could be overblown 
  • Expert says figure not rising with case numbers so jabs may be giving protection 

A total of 1.3million Britons were living with long Covid before the Omicron surge, according to major report by the Office of National Statistics. 

This is equivalent to approximately 2 per cent of the UK's population — or one in 50 people, with symptoms ranging from tiredness to headaches and nausea.

The ONS calculates 506,000, 40 per cent, have suffered the wide-ranging condition for over a year.

The estimates are based on a survey of 350,000 people who self-reported suffering with long Covid, meaning they were not necessarily diagnosed.

These responses were collected in the four weeks to December 6, before the recent surge in Covid infections driven by the Omicron variant. 

There are fears the new wave could exacerbate the problem, now record numbers of people are catching the disease. 

Experts have previously cast doubt over the ONS's long Covid sufferer findings, with some saying they are likely to be an overestimation given symptoms like headaches and fatigue can be linked to a variety of conditions.  

The 1.3million estimate is an increase of 100,000 from the ONS's previous toll which was released at the end of October.

Experts highlighted that long Covid numbers have not, however, risen at the same rate as Covid cases meaning vaccines may be offering some protection against the condition.

The ONS has estimated 1.3million Britons are currently living with Covid, and 506,000 have been doing so for over a year (stock image)

The ONS has estimated 1.3million Britons are currently living with Covid, and 506,000 have been doing so for over a year (stock image)

What is Long Covid?

As of October 2, an estimated 1.2 million people in the UK were estimated to have long Covid, according to the NHS.

Long Covid is an informal term, used to describe ongoing symptoms following a Covid infection that go on longer than 12 weeks.  

A dizzying array of symptoms have been attributed to long Covid, including: 

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness
  • problems with memory and concentration ('brain fog')
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • joint pain
  • depression and anxiety
  • tinnitus, earaches
  • feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
  • a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
  • rashes

There is no cure for the condition though the NHS does recommend a number of treatments designed to help alleviate the symptoms.

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Long Covid is defined as having lingering symptoms of the virus for more than a month after infection. 

It is a poorly understood condition with sufferers normally reporting extreme tiredness, breathing difficulties, a loss of smell, and problems concentrating. But it has been linked to an array of other symptoms like joint pain, nausea, insomnia and depression.

The condition was estimated to affect the day-to-day lives of 809,000 people, nearly two thirds of self-reporting long Covid sufferers. 

Fatigue was the most commonly reported long Covid symptom with just over half of suffers, 51 per cent, reporting feeling tired.

This was followed by loss of smell (37 per cent), shortness of breath 36 per cent, and difficulty concentrating 28 per cent. 

Of those that suffered symptoms, 247,000, one in five, said reported that their ability to undertake day-to-day activities had been 'limited a lot'. 

Out of the 351,850 people the ONS based its analysis on, the condition was most common in 35-69-year-olds, people living in deprived areas, and those with a life-limiting condition or disability.

Women, and people who worked in health or social care and education were also more likely to self report as having long Covid.

The ONS report also noted that its the number for people working in education as self reporting long Covid saw the biggest increase of any employment group.

As of December 6, 26,047 people employed in teaching and education reported having long Covid, a jump of 1,050 compared to the figure for the end of October.

In comparison the number of people employed in the health sector self reporting for long Covid only increased by 1,031 to 20,995.   

Record 3.3MILLION people — one in 15 — had Covid on New Year's Eve in England 

 A record one in 15 people were infected with Covid on New Year's Eve in England, the country's gold-standard surveillance study has found.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated 3.3million people were infected on any given day during the week to December 31, up more than 60 per cent on the previous spell.

Before the emergence of Omicron, that figure rarely rose above 1million, but the ultra-transmissible variant has pushed the country's infection rate to astronomical levels.

The super-mild strain has, however, created a huge disparity between cases, hospitalisations and deaths, with admissions still a third of the level of previous peaks and fatalities 10 times lower.

A shocking one in 10 Londoners were estimated to have Covid on New Year's Eve but the ONS said there were 'early signs' that infections had peaked in the capital, which has been hit hardest by Omicron.

The ONS' weekly infection survey is regarded as the most reliable indicator of the UK's outbreak because it uses random sampling of around 100,000 people, rather than relying on people coming forward to be tested.

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Dr David Strain, a senior clinical lecturer from University of Exeter, said the ONS estimate, which would include people who caught the virus in the Delta wave, suggested that vaccines are helping to ward off long Covid.

He said the figures 'support the hypothesis that the hugely successful vaccination program reduced the risk of progressing to long Covid'. 

However, with an eye on the recent surge in cases due to Omicron variant, Dr Strain added this did not mean the UK should be complacent about the risk posed by long Covid.    

'The stark warning here, however, is that, based the previous waves, over 800,000 people have their day-to-day activities significantly affected over three months after catching Covid, nearly a quarter of a million report this has a dramatic impacts on their quality of life,' he said.

'As we continue to see case numbers of Omicron rise, we must be wary that our reliance purely on hospitalisations and death as a measure of the risk from Covid could grossly underestimate the public health impact of our current Covid strategy.' 

The UK is currently dealing with a massive surge in Covid cases due to highly transmissible Omicron Covid variant. 

A gold standard estimate by the ONS calculated that a record 3.3million people, equivalent to one in 15 Britons were infected on any given day during the week to December 31.

Thankfully hospitalisations and deaths due to the virus have not risen by an equivalent amount with the protection offered by vaccines believed to be helping reduce the number of people becoming seriously ill.

However high case numbers are causing other problems in the health service with dozens of NHS hospitals declaring critical incidents due to the number of staff off work to either having the virus or needing to self isolate. 

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Record 1.3million Britons claimed they had long Covid BEFORE Omicron surge, official data shows

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