In the larger of the two, analysts estimated a staggering 1.1 million people not in hospital had long Covid in the four weeks to March 6. More than half of them had first had the virus – or believed they had – at least three months earlier. Long Covid was adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 674,000. Another 196,000 said their ability to carry on as usual had also been hit.
The second study found one in seven Covid sufferers are still laid low by it 12 weeks afterwards.
One in five were still struggling after five weeks. Long Covid symptoms vary widely but include fatigue, muscle pain, breathlessness and memory loss.
Joint pain and swelling, weakness, brain “fog” and an overall “slowing down” are also recognised as hallmarks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “very worried” by the toll and insisted the Government is investing more in tackling and understanding the condition. He added: “We can see the impact in these new statistics shown today and I understand the impact it has had on hundreds of thousands of people.
“It’s one of the many damaging problems of this virus.
“We’re putting more research money into tackling and understanding long Covid because it appears to be several different syndromes.
“This is a very strange, very dangerous virus and it’s yet another reason for everybody to be cautious.”
Referring to crowds massing this week as the easing of lockdown coincided with beautiful weather, Mr Hancock said: “Enjoy the sunshine, by all means. But nobody is safe from this virus until we can make everybody safe.”
The Office for National Statistics study took a sample of more than 20,000 people who tested positive between April last year and March.
Those aged 25 to 34 were most likely to suffer long Covid – more than 18 percent had it.
Women also appeared to be more susceptible.
Data crunchers also looked at a larger sample of people, some of whom had not had a Covid test.
Here they found it was those aged 35 to 69 most likely to be stricken by long Covid. So too were women, residents of the most deprived areas and patients with a pre-existing condition.
The professions most at risk were health and social care staff.
They were followed by hairdressers, beauticians and others working in the personal care industry. Local government, other civil servants and teaching and education staff were also more vulnerable.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who chairs Parliament’s coronavirus committee, said: “These figures reveal the devastating impact of long Covid across the country and the urgent need for the
Government to step up support for those affected. Long Covid patients have felt like the forgotten victims of this pandemic.
“The Government must end the current postcode lottery of rehabilitation services and ensure all those who need long-term treatment can access it.
“We also need a compensation scheme for key workers with long Covid, who have worked tirelessly on the front line against the pandemic and are now paying a heavy price.
The Government must recognise long Covid as an occupational disease and provide formal guidance to employers, to ensure that workers suffering symptoms are treated fairly and given proper support.”
In February, the World Health Organization’s Europe director said the burden of long Covid “is real and significant”. Dr Hans Kluge said as the pandemic evolved, patients and medics “mapped a path in the dark” with stories of “debilitating symptoms”.
He said: “Regrettably, some were met with disbelief or lack of understanding. We need to listen and we need to understand.
“The sufferers of post-Covid conditions need to be heard if we are to understand the long-term consequences.”