The prevalence of so-called “long COVID” has been “overblown” and its incidence is “much lower than people had anticipated,” a leading British medical expert has said.
Talking to Times Radio on Thursday, Professor Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said: “The long COVID thing has been slightly overblown and as soon as you start to do proper epidemiological studies, you find the incidence is much, much lower than people had anticipated.”
He made the comments after official data released last week suggested that long COVID in the UK is much less common than previously estimated.
According to an update published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Sept. 16, only 3 percent of people who tested positive for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus had symptoms lasting more than 12 weeks, “substantially lower” than the ONS’ previous estimation published in April (13.7 percent).
ONS said the results are “reassuring,” as the majority of people infected with COVID-19 do not experience symptoms beyond the first 12 weeks, and some of those who do will start to feel better over time.
But it noted that “for the minority of people who do go on to experience long-term symptoms, the effects can be debilitating.”
In his Times Radio interview, Bell also said COVID-19 could resemble the common cold by spring next year as people’s immunity to the virus is boosted by vaccines and exposure.
“If you look at the trajectory we are on, we are a lot better off than we were six months ago,” he said. “If you look at the deaths from COVID, they tend to be very elderly people, and it’s not entirely clear it was COVID that caused all those deaths.”
The country “is over the worst” and things “should be fine” once winter has passed, he said, adding that there was continued exposure to the virus even in people who are vaccinated.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, whose work led to the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, told a Royal Society of Medicine webinar on Wednesday that viruses tend to become weaker as they spread around.
“We normally see that viruses become less virulent as they circulate more easily and there is no reason to think we will have a more virulent version of Sars-CoV-2,” She said.
“We tend to see slow genetic drift of the virus and there will be gradual immunity developing in the population as there is to all the other seasonal coronaviruses.”
PA contributed to this report.