UK COVID-19 Update: Long COVID Concerns and Lockdown Uncertainties

Peter Russell

June 24, 2021

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.


Around 1 in 20 adults in England may have experienced persistent COVID-19 symptoms, a study suggested.

A preprint from the REACT study based on a survey of 508,707 people in the community suggested that long COVID could have affected up to 5.8% of the population, or 2 million adults.

The analysis by the team at Imperial College London was based on reports from people who reported having had COVID-19, either suspected or confirmed by PCR test, a third of whom said their symptoms persisted for at least 12 weeks.

Prevalence of persistent symptoms was higher in women than men

Obesity, smoking or vaping, hospitalisation, and deprivation were also associated with a

higher probability of persistent symptoms, the report found.

Asian ethnicity was associated with a lower probability.

The weighted prevalence of self-reported COVID-19 was 19.2%. The study found that 37.7% of symptomatic people after developing COVID-19 experienced at least one symptom, while 14.8% experienced three or more symptoms, lasting 12 weeks or more.

The data was drawn from the REACT-2 rounds 3 to 5 study carried out between September 2020 and February 2021.

Prof Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme, said: "Our findings do paint a concerning picture of the longer-term health consequences of COVID-19, which need to be accounted for in policy and planning.

"Long COVID is still poorly understood but we hope through our research that we can contribute to better identification and management of this condition, which our data and others' suggest may ultimately affect millions of people in the UK alone."

Commenting on the results for the Science Media Centre, Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said: "This preliminary study starts to better define the risk factors associated with long COVID. It supports previous observations that highlight a higher risk of developing long COVID if you are female and if your general health is poor. 

"While this study helps to improve the characterisation of long COVID, it provides no insights into the mechanisms driving this condition or any interventions that might be of therapeutic benefit. It is likely that long COVID represents a constellation of different conditions including those usually associated with post-viral fatigue such as chronic fatigue syndrome."

Health Minister, Lord Bethell said: "We are learning more about long COVID every day. Surveillance programmes like REACT-2 are absolutely essential to advancing our understanding of the long-term impacts of COVID-19.

"We are completely committed to backing innovative research projects into long COVID. They add to our body of understanding and help us develop better treatments to make sure people get the support they need."

Future of Face Coverings

There would be no "legal compulsion” to wear face masks once England's COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Environment Secretary George Eustice said. "Whether there will still be some people who might choose to wear masks or whether it may be advisory in some settings, that's a separate matter," he told Sky News.

A report in The Times said that Government ministers were encouraged by the "very, very" low numbers of deaths from COVID. It said that an announcement next Monday would rule out July 5 as a date for lifting remaining lockdown restrictions, with July 19 pencilled in for the final stage of the roadmap.

Guidance that recommended people should work from home would also be dropped, the report said.

Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh, told Times Radio that it was "absolutely a good idea to consider", although he warned that "we’re certainly going to be living with normal coronavirus for some time to come and undoubtedly through this winter".

A Downing Street spokesperson later clarified that "no final decisions" had been made on whether COVID restrictions would be lifted on July 19.

Other News

  • Uncertainty about the future of travel abroad for UK citizens persisted, despite Boris Johnson saying, "I think that the real opportunity we all have now is to open up travel through the double jab." An update on the traffic light system for foreign travel was trailed for later today.

  • The impact of COVID contributed to 44% of undergraduate students saying they considered their courses 'poor or very poor' value in the current academic year, up from 29% in 2019. The poll by the Higher Education Policy Institute recorded a number of criticisms, including students' concerns that online learning had resulted in a poorer experience compared to in-person teaching.

  • Cathay Pacific has told its aircrew that they must get a COVID vaccination by August 31 or risk losing their jobs, the BBC reported. The airline said staff rostering has become "difficult and complicated" because of a need to segregate vaccinated and non-vaccinated crew.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.


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