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expert reaction to ONS stats from the COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey, England: long COVID and mental health, March 2022

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), have released the latest data from their COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey, England: long COVID and mental health, March 2022.


Dr Michael Absoud, Honorary Reader, Department of Women & Children’s Health, King’s College London, said:

“The jointly led England representative study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have released updated results from the COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey (related period of 15 March to 1 April 2022).  This release includes analysis of persistent symptoms (long Covid) and mental health from teacher, parent and pupil questionnaires.  The recent CloCK study Delphi consensus criteria were used, which defined long COVID by the presence of all the following:

  • a positive test for coronavirus (COVID-19) infection 
  • the presence of symptoms continuously over a 12-week period or longer 
  • that everyday life is affected by these symptoms 

“The study again provides some reassuring findings for children and their families, consistent with recent studies1,2 which showed the vast majority of children recover well post COVID.

“Less than ~2% of primary school children and ~5% of secondary school children met the Delphi criteria for having experienced long COVID since March 2020.  The only symptoms where the prevalence was higher for those with a positive Covid-19 test since March 2020 for secondary school pupils (compared to those who hadn’t) were ‘loss of taste or smell’ (~10% vs ~2%), ‘chest pain/tightness, or palpitations’ (~9% vs ~5%), or ‘fever/ high temperature’ (~22% vs ~14%).  There was very little difference seen in primary school children.

“There were also significant differences in the numbers presenting with a ‘probable mental disorder’ in secondary school pupil groups (test positive ~28% and negative ~12%).  This likely reflects the high burden of difficulties with emotional wellbeing of older children, and the bi-directional interplay of the often neglected mind-body relationship1.  This finding is on a background of even more stretched neurodevelopmental and mental health services, reduced access to in-person therapies in schools, and long ‘hidden’ waiting lists3.

“This study again highlights the importance of studies which considered control groups.  The usefulness of considering long COVID in children as a single entity is unlikely to have empiric validity, and a one-size-fits-all therapeutic approach is unlikely to be appropriate.

“Management should consider differential or additional diagnoses and the mind–body interaction (highlighted by CLoCK), and integration of mental health professionals in multidisciplinary teams should be seen as a parallel and equally valid process.  An urgent and ambitious vision of recovery for children is hence needed, where there is consideration of integration of mental health professionals in multidisciplinary teams.

“Scientific and medical communities should listen to children’s and families’ voices in co-production of future research and service delivery, ultimately informing individualised routes to recovery for all children.”

1 Assessing the impact of the pandemic in children and adolescents: SARS-CoV-2 infection and beyond. Molteni E, Absoud M, Duncan EL. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. Published: February 7, 2022.

2 Long Covid in Children: ONS Prevalence estimates have been radically revised downwards. Bhopal S, Absoud M. 

3 Growing problems. What has been the impact of Covid-19 on health care for children and young people in England? Nuffield Watch and Quality Watch, 18 Feb 2022.


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

No reply to our request for DOIs was received.


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