More than 4,000 people in Sweden have been signed off work long-term due to Covid

More than 4,000 people in Sweden have been signed off work long-term due to Covid
Some people who get infected with Covid-19 report symptoms ranging from a fever to breathing and heart problems for many months afterwards. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
Almost a year after authorities confirmed community spread of the coronavirus in Sweden, thousands have suffered from long-term effects of the virus, known as long Covid.

New figures from the Social Insurance Agency show that more than 4,600 people have been signed off work due to Covid-19 for at least three months.

In February, 156 people reached a full year of being signed off work for long Covid, and around 1,000 more are expected to reach that milestone over the next two months.

Those figures refer to people who were initially signed off due to Covid-19, but around 40 percent of those have had their diagnosis changed since first being signed off.

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Since first being signed off, around 40 percent of those who were initially signed off sick due to Covid-19 have had their diagnosis changed, including to mental health conditions (around 800), joint or muscle problems (around 300), or other illnesses (around 800), including those affecting the heart or nervous systems. Because Covid-19 is still a relatively new illness and little is known about its long-term effects, it’s not clear if these are related.

“We do not know if the change in diagnosis is a result of Covid, or if it these people are actually healthy from Covid and then have fallen ill with a completely different disease,” Terese Östlin, national insurance coordinator at the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, told TT.

She said that the lack of knowledge around long Covid and its possible treatments or cures could cause problems for sickness benefit applications.

“There is a risk that the doctors may have difficulty substantiating the sick leave to us, which in turn may lead to us not having sufficient support to be able to grant sickness benefit,” said Östlin.

So far, the proportion of applications for sick leave due to Covid-19 is low at around three percent.

In Sweden, most workers are eligible for sickness payment for the first 180 days of illness if they are unable to work for their current employer, and it may be extended after that if they are unable to perform any work on the labour market, not just at their current employer.

Sickness benefit is generally equivalent 80 percent of the worker’s qualifying income for the first full year, after which the amount is reduced to 75 percent. However, workers affected by a serious illness can apply to keep their sickness benefit at 80 percent.

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