The majority of New Zealand’s population has now had Covid-19 – but what about Long Covid?

Some studies show that about 10-20% of people infected with Covid-19 may go on to develop long Covid. However, others show those who were infected with Omicron were significantly less likely to be impacted by long term symptoms.

Among those who have been diagnosed with Long Covid is broadcast journalist Joy Reid who has spoken to The Press about how the illness has left her a “shell” of her former self. You can read her story here.

Much has been written about the condition, but what is the latest information, and what is being done about it?

What exactly is Long Covid?

Long Covid is a general term used to describe symptoms that continue or develop beyond the standard time of recovery for Covid-19.

The World Health Organisation’s definition of Long Covid is ongoing or new symptoms which persist for at least three months following infection, not explained by alternate diagnoses.

Although Covid-19 restrictions are no longer in place, the impact of the pandemic remains.

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Although Covid-19 restrictions are no longer in place, the impact of the pandemic remains.

What are the long-term symptoms?

Research published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on July 7 examined the long-term symptoms in Covid-19 cases, both the physical and mental health symptoms.

The Medical Research Institute of New Zealand (MRINZ) – in partnership with Te Whatu Ora – explored the prevalence of ongoing symptoms in a cohort of 2020 alpha/beta variant community cases in the Greater Wellington region.

The most commonly reported symptoms were fatigue, symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort and fever. As well as lung (respiratory) symptoms, including difficulty breathing or shortness of breath and cough.

Other possible symptoms include: neurological symptoms, difficulty thinking or concentrating, headache, sleep problems, dizziness when you stand, pins-and-needles feeling, loss of smell or taste, and depression or anxiety.

Long Covid is a general term used to describe symptoms that continue or develop after Covid-19.


Long Covid is a general term used to describe symptoms that continue or develop after Covid-19.

“Between 45–72% of our study participants reported anxiety, depression, laboured breathing, pain or discomfort, and sleep difficulties,” said Dr Nethmi Kearns, study author and MRINZ Covid lead.

“Ongoing symptoms can have a significant impact on a person’s health, life and work, as our study has identified,” Kearns said.

What about people with an existing health condition?

Genetic research published in June found conditions – including heart disease and Parkinson’s – could “be activated” by the most severe cases of Covid-19 infection.

“While our analysis has confirmed many of the known genetic risk factors for severe or fatal Covid-19 infections, it also throws up new genetic risk factors,” said professor Justin O’Sullivan of the Liggins Institute.

“Of great concern is the genetic risk for Parkinson’s. We know Parkinson’s went up dramatically in the years following the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic,” he said.

The research, published in Scientific Reports, was expected to assist health practitioners and researchers develop therapies for Long Covid.

“We hope our research will help alleviate the burden of Long Covid through shedding light on genetic interactions and biological pathways involved in serious cases,” said O’Sullivan.


Auckland University immunologist Dr Anna Brooks says New Zealand is facing a huge number of long Covid cases in the aftermath of Omicron. (First published May 2022)

How is NZ working to manage long Covid?

Earlier in the month it was announced that researchers were launching a Long Covid registry in the hope of painting an accurate picture of the condition.

The registry (titled Mātauranga Raranga) asks people to confidentially provide information about their experiences relating to long Covid which will be used to accurately report on the condition.

“The registry will be the first time Aotearoa researchers will be able to quantify the broad burden of long Covid,” said lead investigator Dr Paula Lorgelly, a professor in health economics, at University of Auckland.

Participants, who may or may not have a formal diagnosis, will be guided through a survey covering topics such as demographics, symptoms and their duration, vaccine status, impacts on employment or ability to carry out caring duties, expenses involved, and impacts on whānau.

More information about the registry is available here.

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