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New estimates from the Office for National Statistics that look at how many people experience specific symptoms* of Covid after a long time (rather than self-diagnosing long Covid) yield much lower figures for how many people might be suffering from this condition.
Long Covid is still not well understood and does not have a definitive clinical diagnosis, so this analysis is not the last word on the matter.
But it does suggest that long Covid may be less common than has been previously argued on the basis of ONS figures.
The ONS estimates that 5% of people who have been infected with coronavirus are still experiencing symptoms* three months later, compared with 3.4% of people in their study who had not tested positive for coronavirus.
This suggests that roughly 1.6% of people infected with coronavirus are still experiencing symptoms due to coronavirus three months later, since the rate in those infected was 1.6 percentage points higher than that in people who weren’t infected.
Not all people experiencing these symptoms had them all the time – about 3% of people who had tested positive reported long-term Covid symptoms throughout the three months (vs 0.5% of people who hadn’t tested positive).
This is substantially lower than estimates based on self-diagnosis of long Covid.
That analysis has been used before to estimate how many people have long Covid, suggests that about 12% (one in nine) people who were infected would say that they were experiencing it.
*The ONS looked at the following 12 symptoms: fever, headache, muscle ache, weakness/tiredness, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste, and loss of smell.