Long COVID clinics across the country are being inundated with requests for assessments from patients struggling with ongoing symptoms, an inquiry has heard.
Doctors told the federal parliamentary inquiry into Long COVID and Repeated COVID-19 Infections on Wednesday they are struggling to keep up with demand and waitlists are increasing.
At least 10 million Australians have been infected with COVID-19 and it’s estimated three to five per cent will develop long COVID at some point.
Long COVID is characterised by long-term health issues including heart palpitations and extreme fatigue, which usually arise three months from the onset of COVID-19, with symptoms lasting at least two months, according to the World Health Organization.
“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.
The inquiry by the House of Representatives health committee is investigating the economic, social, educational and health impacts of long COVID and repeat infections in Australia.
Infectious disease physician Irani Thevarajan from Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute said more resources are required 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.
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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, NSW has scrapped mandatory reporting of positive COVID-19 tests and in Victoria, masks will no longer be required at schools.
Physical distancing measures and staff vaccination requirements will also be scrapped and alerts about positive cases at schools will no longer happen as the Victorian pandemic declaration comes to an end at midnight Wednesday.
Nationally, it will no longer be mandatory to self-isolate at home if you test positive for COVID-19 from Friday.