Risk that debilitating fatigue after covid-19 might last years: Evidence report for the House of Lords Select Committee on Risk Assessment and Risk Planning (RSK0037), by Caroline Kamau, Birkbeck (University of London) January 27, 2021


The House of Lords Select Committee on Risk Assessment and Risk Planning has been receiving evidence on COVID-19. Dr Caroline Kamau is a senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Birbeck University, specialising in research about occupationally preparing medical doctors, nurses and patients.


The House of Lords must alert the government about evidence showing that
“long covid” (which includes debilitating fatigue and negative health effects) might last for years among sufferers, posing a long-term risk to the nation’s
workforce and economy. This report discusses evidence that viruses can trigger long-term fatigue that severely impairs the personal and occupational
functioning of sufferers, including evidence from populations affected by SARS-CoV-1 where 1 in 4 had debilitating chronic fatigue lasting over 4 years later.

Due to post-viral chronic fatigue being a condition that can force people into
becoming housebound or unable to work, the House of Lords must alert the
government of the risks currently facing people within the UK who were infected with covid-10:

Key points

  • There is the risk of higher unemployment rates among people who had covid-19.
  • There is the risk of higher underemployment rates among people who
    had covid-19 e.g., more switching to part-time working or lower skilled jobs because of health problems.
  • There is the risk of future staff shortages in occupations with a high
    prevalence of covid-19.

Dr Kamau goes on to say that:

SARS-CoV-1 had fatigue so severe and life-changing in its debilitating effects on occupational/other functioning that it met the diagnostic criteria for a medical condition known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as much as 4 years on…

whereas CFS/ME is prevalent among only 1.4%±1.57%.of the general population its prevalence among the people infected with SARS-CoV-1 outbreak was significantly higher at 27.1%.3 SARS-CoV-1 is not alone in inducing debilitating post-viral fatigue that can last months or years; other viruses can have a similar effect e.g. the west Nile virus, Epstein Barr virus and infectious mononucleosis4 where the prevalence of CFS/ME is also markedly higher than the general population…

Key point

  • Based on the evidence, this report encourages the government to
    measure the percentage of people who developed CFS/ME after being infected with covid-19.

How the government can assess and mitigate the risks to the UK workforce

The House of Lords Select Committee on Risk Assessment and Risk Planning
should ask the government to:

A. Conduct research (such as through Office for National Statistics surveys)
revealing the prevalence of post-covid-19 CFS/ME…

B. The government should … estimate the risk of post-covid-19 CFS/ME across the population and the risk by occupation, to identify high risk groups and forecast future workforce shortages.

C. The government should target interventions against staff shortages,
unemployment and underemployment with a focus on occupations at high
risk of post-covid-19 CFS/ME…

D. The government should issue guidance… to NHS primary and social care staff about how to diagnose and advise people with post-covid-19 CFS/ME.

E. The government should provide employers with occupational health
guidance to help them better support employees…

F. The government should…find ways of preventing or treating post-covid-19 CFS/ME.

Key point
The government should measure prevalence of post-covid-19 CFS/ME, conduct modelling to assess high risk occupational groups, intervene to prevent unemployment, underemployment and workforce shortages, guide healthcare staff, advise employers/workers, and inspire research into prevention of post-covid-19 CFS/ME.

Read the full report

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