Long COVID is a term used to describe the symptoms and effects of COVID-19 that last longer than four weeks beyond the initial diagnosis.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that as of 6 January 2022, an estimated 1.3 million people living in private households in the UK (1.9% of the population) were experiencing self-reported Long COVID. The rates of self-reported long COVID were greatest in people aged 35 to 69, females, those living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care, and those with a pre-existing activity-limited health condition.
Symptoms may include: persistent fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog (cognitive challenges), insomnia, dizziness, depression, anxiety and a range of other symptoms which can be found on the NHS website. If you have any concerns about yourself/ a colleague’s symptoms lasting four weeks or more after having COVID-19, please contact/ advise them to contact their GP.
There is still uncertainty around the prognosis of long COVID as each person can experience a range of different symptoms. In some cases, people have begun to feel better before experiencing a return of fatigue and needing further time off to recover. This is known as the ‘boom and bust’ pattern where the person’s fatigue levels will fluctuate. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you are having regular conversations with your colleagues to ensure they understand what their needs are and to prevent the risk of relapse.
It should also be noted that there is an ongoing debate whether employers should view long COVID within the context of workforce disability in line with the Equality Act 2010, which states: ‘A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities. If the long COVID symptoms, described above, have a substantial adverse impact on the employee carrying out day-to-day activities and the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for 12 months, then it could fall within the definition of a disability under the Equality Act and the employee should not be treated less favourably as a result of that condition, and the duty to make reasonable adjustments would be triggered.