The prevalence of Long Covid



25 February 2021

The UKs vaccination programme is now in full swing, and the Prime Minister has this week announced his “roadmap” to exit the current restrictions and lockdowns, with the view to leaving COVID-19 way behind in the national rear-view mirror.

Yet as the death rates begin to fall the media focus is now inevitably turning to another important facet of the health crisis, and one that has remained largely under-reported so far.  Because although COVID-19 is widely recognised as a potentially deadly disease, it is also a condition that has the potential to be long-lasting and very debilitating too. 

Indeed, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around 1 in 10 of those who test positive for COVID-19 experience symptoms for a period of 12 weeks or longer.  This has become widely known as Long Covid.

Not just the vulnerable

Before proceeding further it is worth, once again, emphasising that Long Covid conditions are not always as a result of a severe COVID-19 infection which required hospital treatment.  Nor is the longer form of the illness mainly limited to the elderly and frail. 

Indeed many Long Covid suffers experienced only very mild initial symptoms, and often they were young and/or fit and/or healthy prior to the pandemic too.  It follows that Long Covid might well become a genuine problem for many in the nation’s working age population, and by extension their employers also. 

Yet the symptoms that Long Covid suffers experience vary widely.  Speaking on Radio 4’s Today program last week, MP Layla Moran – Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus – suggested that Long Covid conditions include an astonishing 205 different identified symptoms.   And, as we covered in this post, those symptoms can sometimes recede only to be replaced by entirely new conditions as the illness progresses.

Limited experience of Long Covid

Of course it remains far too early in the world’s experience of Long Covid to know what the average duration of these longer-term symptoms might actually be, or indeed how many of the nation’s working age population will ultimately be impacted.  But it does seem sadly inevitable that at least a few people may never truly return to their pre-pandemic level of health. 

Which is one of the reasons why the APPG on Coronavirus is calling for Long Covid to be formally classed as an “Occupational Disease”.  Such a step has already been taken by other nations, including Germany, Belgium and Denmark, so it will be interesting to see if the UK government take a similar line in the months ahead.

Employers should be taking action now

But regardless of the national stance on this issue, it would make sense for employers to understand the potential risks, and to plan how they will support any workers that are absent because of Long Covid conditions.

So employers are strongly encouraged to better understand the wide variety of potential indicators of Long Covid, and how to provide appropriate support to individual employees when required. 

It naturally follows that employers should ensure that all the elements of their health-related Employee Benefits offerings are fit for purpose, well promoted, and utilised as and when needed too.  For more information please visit this page of our website, or follow one of the links at the foot of this post.

We will of course provide further updates as more Long Covid evidence emerges, new products are developed to support workers and their employers, or if the legal position of such sufferers is officially clarified by legislation.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.

(Published 25/02/21)

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

Steve Herbert

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