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The Lingering Effects of COVID-19

Three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not yet clear if we can truly put the crisis squarely behind us. On the one hand, as of the summer of 2023, most aspects of everyday life in Canada have resumed. Businesses, schools, restaurants and entertainment venues are all fully open. Most people have stopped wearing masks in public and are no longer practicing social distancing. On the other hand, many people continue to catch COVID, with some experiencing serious illness and even death. Others continue to struggle to return to full health, months after having first gotten sick. It seems we are in an in-between phase, with most living their lives as if the pandemic had ended, even though the threat from and impact of the virus has not fully disappeared.

This report helps to fill the information gap by documenting how many Canadians have missed work or school due to COVID-19 in the 12 months prior to the time of the survey in March 2023, and the length of their absences. The findings confirm that even though the formal emergency is over, a significant number of Canadians – almost one in two – continue to be directly affected by the disease, either because they have been sick, caring for someone who was sick, or dealing with the symptoms associated with “long COVID.”

Key insights

The proportion that missed at least one day of work or school in the 12 months up to March 2023 is higher among younger adults and decreases with age. It is also higher among women compared to men; among those with children at home compared to those without, and among those with a disability that at least occasionally limits their daily activity compared to those without a disability.

Survey data found that 45 percent of adult Canadians in the labour force or in education had missed at least one day of work or school in the previous 12 months because they or someone they were caring for were ill with COVID-19. This includes 31 percent who were sick with COVID-19, 15 percent who were caring for someone else who was sick with COVID-19, and 10 percent who had previously been sick with COVID-19, and were suffering from lingering effects of the disease, such as fatigue (an experience generally referred to as “long COVID”.

Those with children at home are also more likely than those without to have missed more than a week of work or school. The same is true of those who are racialized compared to those who are white, those who are Indigenous compared to non-Indigenous peoples, and those who have a disability compared to those who do not.

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