‘Long Covid’ is the term given to the condition where people who had Covid-19 continue to experience residual symptoms after the initial infection, sometimes called ‘Post Covid-19 syndrome’. Given these enduring symptoms and the alarming proportion of those who have Covid-19 who go on to suffer from lasting effects, it is perhaps of little surprise that there is now an increasing focus on long Covid, sickness absence and disability.
The total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK has reached over 6 million. Whilst most people will, fortunately, experience only mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover within the first 4 weeks without requiring special treatment, for some people coronavirus can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. In England, around 2 million people are thought to have had ongoing effects lasting for around 3 months.
Recovery time from the disease appears not to be determined by the severity of symptoms first experienced and people who have had mild symptoms initially can still have long-term problems.
Commonly reported long Covid symptoms include:
Recent TUC studies show that out of 3,500 people surveyed who had tested positive for Covid-19, 95% have been left with ongoing health issues. Significantly 29% reported having had symptoms lasting over a year. A clear majority had experienced side effects including brain fog (72%), shortness of breath (70%), difficulty concentrating (62%) and memory problems (54 per cent). As a result of these findings, amongst its many recommendations, the TUC called for long Covid to be deemed a disability.
There are a number of reasons why employers of all shapes and sizes should be mindful of this. At this stage, it appears that the symptoms are wide-ranging and the recovery timescales differ for each individual case. Much is still unknown about the condition, its’ treatment and recovery. Although it seems unlikely that it will become a ‘deemed’ disability under the Equality Act, despite the recommendations of the TUC, it may well be that certain individuals suffering from the condition will meet the definition of disability contained in the Act. If so, the sufferer would be afforded protection by the Equality Act.
Our follow-on blog will cover the considerations employers may need to make for employees who are affected by Covid-19 on a long term basis.
Contact the Hibberts team for employer advice.