Chris Whitty warns young people face 'significant amount more long Covid' this summer

7 July 2021, 08:42 | Updated: 7 July 2021, 08:59

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned England faces "a significant amount more long Covid".
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned England faces "a significant amount more long Covid". Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Professor Chris Whitty has warned the number of people with long Covid is likely to increase significantly as case rates soar this summer, particularly amoung young unvaccinated people.

England's chief medical officer struck a more downbeat tone at the Local Government Association's Annual Conference on Tuesday, just a day after he stood next to Boris Johnson as lockdown easing plans were announced.

"Since there's a lot of Covid at the moment and the rates are going up I regret to say I think we will get a significant amount more long Covid, particularly in the younger ages where the vaccination rates are currently much lower," he told local health officials.

"The deaths from Covid I think are mercifully going to be much lower in this wave compared to the previous ones as a proportion of cases but long Covid remains, I think, a worry.

"We don't know how big an issue it's going to be but I think we should assume it's not going to be trivial."

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Around one million people reported suffering from long Covid at the beginning of June, according to the Office for National Statistics, with symptoms persisting for more than four weeks.

Some estimates suggest that 340,000 people may need support for the condition including 68,000 who will need rehab or other specialist treatment.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, "brain fog" and extreme fatigue with almost a third of sufferers saying it has a significant impact on their daily life.

ONS data suggests around 9.8% of children aged two to 11 and 13% of those aged 12-16 report continued symptoms five weeks after first being infected.

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Prof Whitty said in his view the way to prevent long Covid is "to keep Covid rates right down and make sure everyone is vaccinated so they get very mild disease".

"I think we really just need to push hell for leather for those two," he continued.

The prime minister on Monday announced that almost all Covid restrictions would be lifted on 19 July. A final decision will be made next week.

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From 16 August school children will also no longer need to isolate if they come into contact with a person with Covid, it was announced on Tuesday.

While aimed at reducing the number of pupils forced to miss out on education unnecessarily, the move is also likely to increase the number of young people testing positive for Covid-19.

So far the vaccination programme has not been rolled out to under-18s in the UK, despite the medicines regulator approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people aged 12 and over.

The government has said it will follow the recommendations of the expert Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Read more: School bubbles to end and pupils will only isolate if positive for Covid after August 16

Ministers have accepted that the UK could see around 100,00 cases per day by the summer, overtaking the previous peak of around 81,000 per day recorded in late December 2020.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has accused the government of basing their policy on "natural infection amongst younger people", alongside the vaccination program.

The predicted 100,000 daily cases would lead to around 5,000 long Covid cases per day, the Labour front bencher added.