Canada’s chief science adviser has released a report on long COVID, warning that it could have significant long-term impacts on the country’s economy.
In the report, Dr. Mona Nemer called COVID-19 the “head” of the pandemic and long COVID its “tail,” citing the debilitating effects of the disease that can linger long after the initial infection.
She estimated that 10-20% of people with COVID-19 develop long COVID or post-COVID condition (PCC), with symptoms including high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, chronic fatigue, brain fog, muscle pain, and blurred vision.
“Some patients have not recovered two to three years after the initial infection and it is uncertain whether a proportion may ever fully recover,” Nemer said in the report, adding that the lack of consensus on a clear definition and diagnostic criteria can make it difficult to lodge claims for social assistance, disability supports, and insurance.
There could be wider socio-economic implications too, as analysis of long COVID in other countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, indicated “significant impacts on the labour market and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in addition to health costs and demands.”
Nemer said Canada could face a “mass disabling event,” since it has become “increasingly evident” that long COVID is a serious condition that could raise the risk of several chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension and arrhythmia.
Fifteen per cent (15%) of adults in Canada reported some long COVID symptoms at least three months after a positive COVID-19 test, according to Statistics Canada, amounting to a total of 1.4 million people. However, due to the lack of established diagnostic criteria, the number of people affected could be underreported.
Nemer’s report made 18 recommendations that included the establishment of a Canada-wide research and clinical care network, as well as standardised assessments and clinical guidelines.
The federal government responded to the report by announcing its plan to put aside $29 million in funding for the development of clinical guidelines and the creation of an online network where researchers and clinicians can share information about long COVID with each other and the public.
“Canada’s science community is well positioned to provide the government with the evidence and the expertise needed to address post COVID-19 condition,” Nemer said of the government’s plans.
“Thanks to the experts who contributed to our Task Force recommendations, we now have a roadmap, a network and the support of government to take steps toward fully understanding this disease and helping to mitigate its effects on people and our society.”
While specialized long COVID clinics and rehabilitation services are available in some provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, their exact number and locations are not readily available, and patients endure long wait times for any services they could access, according to a report by The Canadian Press.