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Health system struggling as up to 300,000 Aussies battle long Covid

Doctors are struggling to keep up with long Covid assessment requests, with at least 300,000 Australians reported to be affected.

As waitlists are only increasing, doctors told the federal parliamentary inquiry into long Covid and repeated Covid on Wednesday they are trying to meet the demand.

Margaret Hellard AM, Deputy Director at Burnet Institute, said official data on how many Australians are suffering from Long Covid is not yet known, but is generally quoted as three to five per cent of Covid infections.

A photo of a medical assessment form and another photo of a fatigued woman lying down.
Doctors said there is an increased demand for long Covid assessments in Australia, with more resources being needed. Source: Getty (Getty)

"If you've got 10 million people infected, if it's three per cent that's 300,000 people … big numbers," she said.

"Even if they're overestimates, in a disease where there's a high proportion of the community getting infected then a small percentage becomes consequential."

Infectious disease physician Irani Thevarajan from Melbourne's Peter Doherty Institute said more resources are needed to keep up with demand.

"I wouldn't say it's overwhelming the health system, I just think we've got an increased demand and we're trying to meet that demand by increasing our resources and capacity," Dr Irani said.

Long Covid — symptoms and treatment

Long Covid is characterised by long-term health issues including heart palpitations and extreme fatigue, and usually arises three months from the onset of Covid, with symptoms lasting at least two months, the World Health Organization reports.

"Our waitlist is increasing because what we've observed is that it can take some time for the recognition of post-COVID conditions, particularly with the fatigue-predominant types, to reach us," Royal Children's Hospital Associate Professor Shidan Tosif told the inquiry.

Patients are usually referred to specialist clinics through a GP and while there is no official cure, symptoms can sometimes be treated on a case-by-case basis.

A photo of an elderly man relaying his symptoms to a doctor.
Approximately 300,000 Australians are affected by long Covid, with doctors treating them on a case-by-case basis. Source: Getty (Getty)

The increased Long Covid waitlists come as most Covid restrictions are scrapped in Australia.

Nationally, it will no longer be mandatory to self-isolate at home if you test positive from Friday.

And at midnight on Wednesday, physical distancing measures and staff vaccination requirements will come to an end in Victoria.

Masks will also no longer be required at Victorian schools, where alerts about positive cases will also stop.

Meanwhile, NSW has already scrapped mandatory reporting of positive Covid tests.

The inquiry into long Covid and repeated Covid by the House of Representatives health committee is investigating its economic, social, educational and health impacts.


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