Health Secretary Matt Hancock admits he is “worried” about the long-term impacts of coronavirus on those who have been infected.
Mr Hancock said a “significant minority” of people had suffered “quite debilitating” conditions after contracting COVID-19.
It comes after Sky News reported on how psychosis, insomnia, kidney disease, spinal infections, strokes, chronic tiredness and mobility issues are being identified in former coronavirus patients in northern Italy.
Asked about the long-term impact of the disease on patients, the health secretary – who contracted COVID-19 himself in March – told Sky News’ Kay Burley@Breakfast show: “I am concerned. Thankfully not for me, I’m fine.
“I am concerned there’s increasing evidence a minority of people – but a significant minority – have long-term impacts and it can be quite debilitating.
“So we’ve set up an NHS service to support those with long-term impacts of COVID-19 and, also, we’ve put almost £10m into research into these long-term effects.
“It is something that I’m worried about, we’ve taken action on – both through the NHS and through the research activities.
“It’s one of the consequences of this being a novel virus.
“We’re constantly learning about the impact of it and it does appear that for some people there’s a pretty debilitating long-term impact, quite similar to a post-viral fatigue syndrome that you do get with many viruses.
“It’s really important we support people who are in that situation and, also, that we do the research to find out what we can do about it.”
Doctors in Lombardy, the worst-affected region in Italy, have said COVID-19 is a systemic infection that affects all the organs of the body and not, as was previously thought, just a respiratory disease.
Mr Hancock admitted the fact that medical experts and governments around the world were “constantly learning” about the virus had been one of the hardest aspects of responding to the pandemic.
He said: “The decisions have been extraordinary and very large, the issues that you balance are very, very significant on both sides.
“The hardest part has been, without doubt, the fact that, as we’ve learnt more, so we’ve had to change policy and then you have to come on and explain why your policy is different today to yesterday.
“The truth is, because we’re constantly learning.”
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He pointed to the example of how scientists had previously thought those without coronavirus symptoms could not spread the disease.
“Before this coronavirus there were six previous coronaviruses and none of them had asymptomatic transmission,” Mr Hancock said.
“So, understandably, the advice at the start was this one won’t either.
“But it does, and it’s one of the hardest things to deal with because it’s hard enough stopping a virus when people with symptoms have got it – but when people without symptoms are passing it on it makes it just so much harder.
“The whole world is struggling with this problem.”