New research studies backed by almost £20m of government money are to look into the phenomenon of “long Covid” which has seen thousands of people struck down by extreme fatigue, breathlessness, headaches and brain fog for 12 months or more after a coronavirus infection.
Office for National Statistics figures released last month found 995,000 people reporting protracted symptoms, with 192,000 saying their ability to carry out normal day-to-day tasks was reduced “a lot”.
Some 887,000 said the problems persisted more than three months and 405,000 more than a year – including 13,000 children under the age of 16 affected for 12 months or more. It is not yet known whether the deterioration in normal functioning could become permanent in some cases.
With Covid-19 infections forecast to spike to at least 100,000 a day over the coming weeks following the removal of lockdown restrictions, there are fears that many more people will experience the mysterious illness, which often affects people whose initial coronavirus infection produced only mild symptoms.
The 15 new research studies announced by health secretary Sajid Javid will include the largest long Covid trial to date, involving more than 4,500 people.
Projects will focus on understanding the condition, identifying new drug treatments and rehabilitation methods, evaluating the effectiveness of care responses, improving integration of support services and improving self-monitoring of symptoms.
Announcing the new funding, Mr Javid said: “Long Covid can have serious and debilitating long-term effects for thousands of people across the UK which can make daily life extremely challenging.
“This new research is absolutely essential to improve diagnosis and treatments and will be life-changing for those who are battling long-term symptoms of the virus.
“It will build on our existing support with over 80 long Covid assessment services open across England as part of a £100 million expansion of care for those suffering from the condition and over £50 million invested in research to better understand the lasting effects of this condition.”
The chair of National Institute for Health Research’s long Covid funding committee, Professor Nick Lemoine, added: “This package of research will provide much needed hope to people with long-term health problems after Covid-19, accelerating development of new ways to diagnose and treat long Covid, as well as how to configure healthcare services to provide the absolute best care.
“Together with our earlier round of funding, NIHR has invested millions into research covering the full gamut of causes, mechanisms, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of long Covid.”
New studies include projects at University College London as well as Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds and Oxford universities.