Australia's health system is not equipped to deal with the looming threat of long COVID, a new study has warned, and most people who contract the virus are still suffering symptoms a month on.
And as reinfections surge across Australia, three quarters want government to boost investment to care for those suffering ongoing problems associated with COVID-19.
A survey of more than 2000 respondents, conducted by Lung Foundation Australia, has found Australia's health care system is leaving long COVID patients "unsupported and without tailored care".
"Our collective lack of understanding of COVID-19 impacts in Australia opens the way for critical gaps in our health services, leaving those experiencing ongoing COVID-19 symptoms unsupported and without tailored care," it said.
Roughly 10 million COVID-19 infections have been reported in the country as of last month, and experts have warned of another surge driven by highly-infectious variants spreading through a population with diminishing vaccine protection.
The report found 40 per cent of patients suffering long COVID had not sought medical advice or treatment, many complaining of a lack of public education on coping with the condition.
The most common lingering symptoms were breathing problems (51 per cent), fatigue (50 per cent), followed by a persistent cough (34 per cent) and ongoing brain fog (31 per cent).
Lung Foundation CEO Mark Brooke urged authorities to see the crisis as an opportunity to revamp the nation's under-pressure health system.
"Australians want greater support to address the unmet healthcare needs of this group of Australians," he said.
"We have an opportunity for governments to be proactive and make significant improvements to healthcare and to advance the health system to deal with this new burden."
Estimates on how many patients will develop long COVID vary wildly, often due to differences in how the condition is defined.
A nationally consistent definition was one of 10 recommendations made in the report. It also included calls for funding for respiratory clinics specifically for long COVID patients, and transitioning long COVID clinics into "to multipurpose respiratory clinics".
Submissions to an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the impacts of long COVID and repeated COVID-19 infections will close this month, and Lung Foundation Australia will lodge its findings.
Labor in August announced $31 million for research into COVID-19, including work to assess the impact of long COVID.
But 75 per cent of the report's respondents supported government ramping up funding for direct long COVID care.
"That is a telling sign of the current gap in support," Lung Foundation Australia board member Professor Christine Jenkins said.
"There are significant disparities and challenges across Australia that need to be addressed if we are to ensure equitable health care for all."
And with those suffering lung conditions at particular risk from the virus, the report also warned the pandemic had particularly hit that cohort's mental health.
More than half of respondents with a chronic condition reported being anxious or extremely anxious about contracting the virus or developing long COVID.