Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on 22nd October 2020 that people under 50 are twice as likely to suffer from “long Covid” after a coronavirus infection.
He also said that “there appears to be no correlation between the seriousness of someone’s initial illness and how long they can have these debilitating consequences.”
Although the longer-term effects of Covid are still poorly understood, the evidence mentioned by Mr Hancock does not support his claim: it suggests the opposite. According to the King’s College study, younger people and those with milder symptoms were less likely to be affected by long Covid.
This data suggested that around one in 20 (4.5%, or 189 users) stayed ill for eight weeks. So Mr Hancock was right to say that one in 20 people would have long-term symptoms after a Covid infection—if you define “long-term” as more than eight weeks.
However, he was wrong to compare this to the one-in-10 figure for people under 50, because this describes those who suffered from symptoms that lasted more than four weeks—rather than eight.
The King’s College study explains that the proportion of people experiencing “LC28” (meaning symptoms lasting more than 28 days) rose from 9.9% among 18-49 year olds to 21.9% among those aged 70 or more. In other words, symptoms lasting more than four weeks were about twice as common among the over-70s as among the under-50s. A chart in the paper shows that the rate was also higher among people in their 50s and 60s. This is the opposite of what Mr Hancock suggested.
Based on the evidence from the app, Mr Hancock was also wrong to say that there was “no correlation” between the severity of the initial illness and the length of the symptoms afterwards.
The King’s College study goes on to say people with long Covid were “more likely to have required hospital assessment in the acute period.” Overall, 13.9% of the confirmed cases in the study had visited hospital. However, among those reporting symptoms for at least four weeks this rose to 31.5%, and among those reporting symptoms for at least eight weeks it was 43.9%.
The app data also suggested that “Individuals reporting more than 5 symptoms in the first week (the median number reported) were significantly more likely to go on to experience LC28 [symptoms lasting at least four weeks].” In short, more severe cases of Covid seemed more likely to result in long Covid afterwards.
Finally, Mr Hancock told Parliament that “other evidence” supported his claim that young people were more likely to be affected by long Covid. FullFact asked DHSC about this and it told them that the figures he quoted came from the same King’s study.
To be fair to the former health secretary the long term effects of Covid are still poorly understood, and much hangs on the definition of Long Covid, but Mr Hancock’s claims about Long Covid appear to be contradicted by credible research.
When we asked Matt Hancock to respond to the claims laid out in this website, a spokesperson said: “This list is false, wildly inaccurate, and in some cases possibly even defamatory. For example claiming that some of Matt's claims in the Commons were in defiance of the ministerial code, when they were in fact accurate. The priority throughout this unprecedented pandemic has been saving lives.”