A record two million people in the UK are estimated to be suffering from long Covid, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Around 3.1% of the British population are suffering symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after catching Covid-19, according to new ONS estimates.
Some 376,000 people who first caught Covid-19 around the start of the pandemic have reported symptoms lasting at least two years.
And 826,000 people have been experiencing symptoms for at least a year.
Around 1.4 million have had lingering symptoms at least three months after their initial infection.
The most common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cough and muscle ache.
One in five (20%) of those who have long Covid reported that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot” by ongoing symptoms.
The ONS said that the rates of long Covid were highest among women, those aged 35 to 69 years, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, teaching and education or health care, and those with other health conditions or disabilities.
The figures are based on self-reported long Covid from a representative sample of people in private households in the four weeks to May 1 2022.
Estimates for long Covid in the UK have risen sharply in recent months, climbing from 1.3 million at the start of the year to reach 1.5 million by the end of January and 1.8 million in early April.
The increase is likely to reflect the impact of the Omicron variant of the virus, which saw record levels of infection across the country in the spring.
Of the two million people with self-reported long Covid, 619,000 – nearly a third – first had the virus, or suspected they had it, during the Omicron period.
The first Omicron wave began in the UK in December 2021 and was followed in March 2022 by another surge of infections driven by the Omicron BA.2 variant.
In contrast, 593,000 people with self-reported long Covid said they first had Covid-19 in the early period of the pandemic before Alpha became the main variant in late 2020.
Experts have called for more to be done to educate the public about the risks of long Covid.
Professor Amitava Banerjee, from the Institute of Health Informatics at University College London, told the PA news agency: “We know that the only way to prevent it is to prevent getting infected.
“We’ve put all of our eggs in the vaccination basket, and the latest analysis, including by ONS, show that although vaccinated people are much less likely to get long Covid than those without vaccination, they still get can get infected, and they still can get long Covid.
“So this idea that there’s nothing to worry about with high levels of Covid in the population, I think, is misguided.
“I think we should be doing more to educate people… just as we’ve said since the beginning, there’s a risk of hospitalisation or at worst death in people who are vulnerable, and that’s why you should get vaccinated.
“But we should still be saying today in June 2022 that getting Covid infection is something that’s best avoided because there’s a risk.”
He added: “(Studies suggest) five to 10%… of people get persistent symptoms.
“And that can mean you feeling unwell, that can mean that you’re off work, at population level that has a strain on health systems that has an impact on economies.
“So still, I think the message is consistent: avoid infection if you can.”
The latest ONS figures show there continues to be higher prevalence of long Covid among people working in frontline public sector jobs.
Around one in 20 (5.4%) of social care workers said they were experiencing long Covid, the highest proportion for any occupation, followed by people in teaching and education (4.6%), health care (4.6%) and the civil service or local government (4.1%).
Some one in 40 (2.5%) of social care workers said they been suffering long Covid since first having the virus at least 12 months ago.
Layla Moran MP, chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, said: “For nearly two years we have been warning the UK Government about the scale and dangers of the long Covid crisis and their failure to properly address it will continue to devastate lives, damage our economy and cripple public services by decreasing productivity and increasing labour shortages.
“After reaching this grim milestone, the Government cannot bury their heads in the sand any longer. They must urgently classify long Covid as an occupational illness, provide formal guidance to employers and increase funding for research into treatments.”