An estimated 1.3 million people in the UK currently have long Covid, a survey by the Office for National Statistic suggests.

It equates to around 2% of the population who say they have symptoms lasting more than four weeks after infection with Covid-19.

Among study participants who self-reported long Covid, 21% first had Covid-19 less than 12 weeks ago and 70% 12 weeks or more ago.

The ONS said 40% of those surveyed who said they had ongoing symptoms had been infected with Covid-19 more than a year ago.

Fatigue was the most common symptom in the survey with just over half of individuals reporting it as their experience of long Covid, followed by loss of smell in 37%, shortness of breath in 36% and difficulty concentrating in 28%.

The results showed that the proportions of people self-reporting that symptoms of the illness and impacting on their ability to carry out day to day tasks was similar to previous results at 64%. One in five said their ability to do daily activities had been limited a lot.

Long Covid remains more common in females, those aged 35 to 69 years, those living in deprived areas and those working in health or social care or teaching, the ONS said.

The data comes from the UK Covid-19 Infection Survey of 352,000 people from November and early December last year. It is self-reported data rather than a measure of clinically diagnosed post-Covid-19 syndrome as defined by NICE, the ONS stressed.

Dr David Strain, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, said: ‘The fact that these figures have not risen commensurate with the number of cases of Delta that we saw last year supports the hypothesis that the hugely successful vaccination program reduced the risk of progressing to long Covid in addition to reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death from the acute illness, or that those left with these long-term symptoms do continue to improve and ultimately resolve, albeit beyond 12 months.’

But he added over 800,000 people say their day-to-day activities are significantly affected more than three months after catching Covid and nearly a quarter of a million had reported a dramatic impact on their quality of life. 

‘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.’

A version of this story first appeared on our sister website, Pulse.