The government is being urged to take the issue of long COVID seriously with a warning that up to five million Australians could face acute or long-term health problems.
A growing number of people who had COVID-19 go on to experience debilitating fatigue, breathing difficulties, and lung damage, the Lung Foundation Australia said on Thursday.
The charity and leading peak body called on the government to invest $2.1 million over three years to support people with long COVID and people with pre-existing lung disease in the COVID-19 environment.
With thousands of Australians still hospitalised with COVID-19, LFA Chair Lucy Morgan says many may continue suffering with symptoms into next year.
"There are many people who had their initial sickness 12 months ago or longer and still have low oxygen," Prof Morgan said.
"Many others are developing a scarring lung disease as a direct consequence of their infection."
Those hospitalised for lengthy periods may find getting to the point of baseline recovery can take months, and requires the help of multiple health professionals, with resources already stretched thin.
"We have thousands of people who have been blindsided by this nasty illness and can't work, go to school, sleep, or exercise - the teachers, flight attendants, doctors, nurses, and business owners who can't work or live like they used to."
Greater resources are needed for people with severe illness, as well as people considered "less sick", she said.
"This less severe version of long COVID is set to be the biggest challenge for our whole system, economy, productivity, and certainly happiness for the coming years, and investing in this is about putting back the foundations that will support people with chronic lung disease."
Some 78 per cent of Australians are concerned about the long-term effects of COVID-19, according to a recent LFA survey, a result they say could increase with the onset of a new variant.
As the long-term health implications became better understood, resources needed to be put in place to support Australians' health, LFA CEO Mark Brooke said.
"A good government acknowledges its responsibility to be part of the solution, and a great government would lead us out of this with sensible planning and comprehensive investment to get us back on track," Mr Brooke said.
He said the LFA saw a significant increase in requests for support and resources throughout the pandemic, and are eager to scale up their work with government help.