Covid-19: WHO urges action as 17 million long covid cases are estimated in Europe

Reproduced from the BMJ 2022; 378 doi: (Published 14 September 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o2232

By Jacqui Wise


An estimated 17 million people experienced long covid in the first two years of the pandemic in the European region, new modelling conducted for the World Health Organization has shown.

WHO Europe has called on countries to take long covid seriously by urgently investing in research, recovery, and rehabilitation.

The research, carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in the United States, estimated the burden of long covid in 2020 and 2021 by looking at a literature review and cohort studies from several countries with access to individual level data. Long covid symptoms were grouped around three symptom clusters: respiratory, cognitive, and fatigue or mood swings.

The modelling found that females were twice as likely as males to experience long covid, classified as symptoms lasting at least three months. The risk increases dramatically among severe covid-19 cases needing hospital admission, with one in three females and one in five males likely to develop long covid.

A recent study published in the Lancet reported that one in eight (12.7%) patients with covid-19 was likely to experience long term symptoms.12


It is too early to estimate the long covid burden in the European region this year, but a recent UK study found that the omicron variant was less likely to result in long covid symptoms than the delta variant.34 However, WHO warned that, given the high transmissibility of omicron and its rapid spread, a correspondingly large number of people were likely to be developing long covid.

The data highlighted “the urgent need for more analysis, more investment, more support, and more solidarity with those who experience this condition,” said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, speaking at a WHO Regional Committee for Europe meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel.

He added, “We need all countries in the WHO European region to recognise that long covid is a serious problem, with serious consequences, and requires a serious response to stop the lives of those affected from getting any worse—and not just on a physical health level.

“We are hearing stories of so many individual tragedies, of people in financial crisis, facing relationship problems, losing their jobs, and falling into depression. Many health workers who risked their lives on the front lines of the pandemic now have this chronic and debilitating condition as a result of infection acquired in the workplace.

“They, and millions of others, need our support. The consequences of long covid are clearly severe and multifaceted.”

WHO Europe is officially partnering with Long Covid Europe, an organisation with 19 patient associations across member states in the European region.

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