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Long COVID hurting workforce, says study

By ANGUS McNEICE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-03-22 09:31
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A person walks past an image of a National Health Service (NHS) worker displayed on hoardings outside a temporary field hospital at St George's Hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain, Jan 8, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Impact of virus on cognitive function 'has not been getting enough attention'

Three-quarters of people who have chronic and long-term COVID-19 symptoms report having extended periods during which they are unable to work properly, a new United Kingdom study has shown.

University of Cambridge researchers followed 181 people with so-called long COVID and found 78 percent reported difficulty in concentrating, 69 percent reported brain fog, 68 percent reported forgetfulness, and 60 percent reported problems finding the right words when speaking.

In the study, 75 percent said that they could not perform at work for long periods.

"The effects are measurable, something concerning is happening," said Muzaffer Kaser, a consultant psychiatrist at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, who was involved in the study. "Memory difficulties can significantly affect people's daily lives, including the ability to do their jobs properly."

A previous analysis from University College London, which looked at an international cohort of more than 1,700 people with long COVID, found almost half required a reduced work schedule compared to pre-illness, and an additional 22 percent were not working at the time of survey due to illness.

The UK Office for National Statistics, or ONS, estimates that between 10 percent and 25 percent of people who become infected with COVID-19 experience symptoms that persists for several months.

Lucy Cheke, a Cambridge psychologist and the paper's senior author, said the results showed long COVID is likely to have a significant effect on the workforce.

"Long COVID has received very little attention politically or medically," Cheke said. "It urgently needs to be taken more seriously, and cognitive issues are an important part of this. When politicians talk about living with COVID-19-that is, unmitigated infection-this is something they ignore. The impact on the working population could be huge."

Studies in other nations have shown the impact of long COVID on jobs. A January analysis from Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution estimated the United States labor market is missing 1.6 million full-time workers due to long COVID.

The UK government has lifted all pandemic restrictions and COVID-19 cases have surged in recent weeks, driven in part by an easily spread sub-variant of Omicron.

In its most recent survey, the ONS said an estimated 2.65 million people in England had COVID-19 in the week ending March 12, or one person in 20, compared to 2.1 million the week before, or one in 25.

The Cambridge study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, followed patients from late 2020 to mid-2021, when the Alpha variant was dominant. The researchers are now recruiting more subjects, so they can assess the impact of other variants on cognition.

Half of the people in the study said they had difficulty in getting doctors to take their symptoms seriously, indicating that cognitive symptoms may not get the same attention as respiratory issues or fatigue.

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