The NHS recently added nine new Covid symptoms to its official list more than two years into the pandemic.
The update was quietly made last week, extending the list from just three symptoms to 12 in total.
Health experts have long been calling for the change to be made to reflect the variety of symptoms that have emerged following the outbreak of new variants.
Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist of the ZOE Covid-19 symptom tracker app, has been highly critical of the government’s “refusal” to recognise a “wider array of symptoms”, and called on officials last year to add to its list.
He argued that failing to acknowledge the wider list of ailments affecting people infected with coronavirus, coupled with the decision to scrap self-isolation rules and free testing, could have driven up transmission rates.
The long-awaited update was welcomed by the professor who said it should help to minimise infections going forward, but he warned the NHS has listed key symptoms of the virus in the wrong order.
What are the key symptoms of Covid?
The NHS previously only listed three symptoms as a sign of infection from Covid, including a high temperature, a new continuous cough, and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste.
The extension now recognises a sore throat, fatigue and headache, among others, but Prof Spector has said the order of the list is misleading.
Commenting on the updated list, he wrote on Twitter: “NHS official Main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) have finally changed after 2 years of lobbying and Zoe app user input – hurrah! Pity they have the order wrong – but it’s a start and could help reduce infections. thanks ZOE loggers!”
Prof Spector criticised the NHS list for putting too much emphasis on symptoms including fever and loss of smell or taste, noting that the symptoms being reported to the ZOE app “shows a very different story”.
He pointed out that cold and flu-like symptoms should feature much higher, as these are more common of the Omicron variant, while diarrhoea, which has just been added to the government list, does not even feature among the top 20 reported symptoms on the ZOE app.
He added: “The addition of more symptoms is definitely a step in the right direction and it could help reduce infections as we go forward.
“However, whilst this is good news, I’d like to see the order of the symptoms changed, as the NHS list puts far too much emphasis on symptoms like fever, and anosmia, which we know are much less common since the Omicron variant emerged.
“According to the Zoe Covid Study, the top five symptoms being reported by contributors with a positive Covid test are runny nose, fatigue, sore throat, headache and sneezing.”
The ZOE Covid study says the following 20 symptoms are the key signs of infection people should look for, with the most commonly reported symptoms listed first:
- Runny nose (82%)
- Fatigue (mild and severe) (70%)
- Sore throat (69%)
- Headache (69%
- Sneezing (68%)
- Persistent cough (54%
- Hoarse voice (47%)
- Chills or shivers (36%)
- Unusual joint pains (33%)
- Other (33%)
- Fever (32%)
- Dizzy (30%)
- Brain fog (28%)
- Eye soreness (25%)
- Altered smell (24%)
- Unusual muscle pain (23%)
- Lower back pain (23%)
- Swollen glands (21%)
- Skipped meals (18%)
- Ear ringing (18%)
The symptoms list update emerged just days after the government ended free universal Covid testing in England, and comes as infection levels have hit a record high in the UK, with almost five million people estimated to currently be infected.
Downing Street defended axing free tests on Monday (4 April), saying lateral flow spending was “simply unsustainable”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “I think we need to look at where we are in the course of this pandemic.
“We know there is relatively high prevalence of Covid at the moment but, because of vaccines, because of therapeutics and other approaches, we are not seeing it have the knock-on impact when it comes to requiring the most intensive hospital treatment.
“At the same time the provision of free tests was costing taxpayers £2 billion a month and that is simply unsustainable.”
The spokesman said ministers expect the public to use their “good judgement” from now on to decide whether to go out if they have coronavirus-like symptoms.
He added: “I think anyone, even pre-Covid, would recognise if they have symptoms of an infectious disease something like flu they should stay home and not infect their loved ones or colleagues and it is that sort of good judgement that we expect to see going forward.”