A new study has found that over two million people in England may have had long COVID – characterised as having one or more COVID-19 symptoms for at least 12 weeks.

The REACT-2 study is based on self-reported data from over half a million adults aged 18 years and above who took part in rounds three to five, carried out between September 2020 and February 2021.

The study found that around a fifth of those surveyed reported having had a COVID-19 symptom previously and over a third reporting persistent symptoms lasting for at least 12 weeks.

On top of that, around a tenth of those with symptoms said they lasted at least 12 weeks and were severe.

The study also suggests that the prevalence of long COVID increases with age, with a 3.5% increase in likelihood in each decade of life.

The findings also show that long COVID is higher among women, people who are overweight or obese, who smoke, live in deprived area or had been admitted to hospital. Meanwhile, persistent COVID-19 symptoms were lower in people of Asian ethnicity, according to the study.

Those who reported persistent COVID-19 symptoms at 12 weeks fell into two broad groups. In the first group, the most common symptoms were tiredness and muscle aches, while in the second, individuals mainly reported shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and chest pain.

“Long COVID can have a lasting and debilitating impact on the lives of those affected. Studies like this help us to rapidly build our understanding of the impact of the condition and we are using these findings and other new research to develop support and treatments,” said Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock.

“We are learning more about long COVID all the time and have made £50 million of research funding available to support innovative projects, with clinics established across the country to help improve the treatment available,” he added.

In February, the government announced it will provide £18.5m to fund research projects aimed at improving understanding of the causes and effects of long COVID.