(Bloomberg) -- More than 200,000 Britons who left the UK labor market in the year to July reported suffering from long-Covid, official statistics show.

Analysis by the Office for National Statistics found a link between the virus and the soaring levels of workforce inactivity since the pandemic struck, which is posing severe economic problems for the UK.

A link between Covid and inactivity, which measures people who neither have a job nor are looking for one, has long been suspected, but there has been little conclusive evidence so far. The figures shed light on why so many people have dropped out of the workforce since the pandemic, one of the things that’s pushing up wages and inflation.

“Today’s analysis shows that working-age people are less likely to participate in the labor market after developing long Covid symptoms than they were before being infected with coronavirus,” said Daniel Ayoubkhani, ONS statistician for data and analysis for social care and health. “Furthermore, this relationship between self-reported long Covid and inactivity for reasons other than education or retirement is strongest among people aged 50 years or above.”

The ONS was cautious about drawing a firm connection but said “long Covid may have contributed to the decreasing levels of participation in the UK labor market during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Inactivity has risen by 600,000 since early 2020, with long-term sickness the main factor. Falling participation is an acute problem in the UK, the only major economy where fewer people are in work than before the pandemic. 

That participation gap is causing staff shortages, which in turn have lowered the UK’s growth capacity and are adding to inflationary pressures.  

The ONS found that inactivity in the year to July 2022 among people with self-reported long Covid symptoms rose by 217,000. Their inactivity rate increased 3.8 percentage points, compared with 0.4 percentage points among those without self-reported long Covid symptoms.

The ONS defines long Covid as symptoms lasting more than four weeks after a confirmed or suspected infection.

The study found that people who caught Covid and recovered were less likely to be inactive three months after getting ill than those who were not infected, probably because they were “less likely to leave employment during, or shortly after returning from, a period of short-term sickness absence.”

However, those still reporting Covid symptoms eight months to a year after infection were between 34% and 45% more likely to be inactive than before catching the virus.  

The analysis also found that older workers who caught the virus were equally likely to retire, whether it turned into long-Covid or not.

“Among people aged 50 to 64 years who were in employment 12 to 20 weeks after a first test-confirmed infection, transition to retirement occurred at similar rates for participants with and without self-reported long Covid,” the ONS said.

“People with long Covid may have been increasingly likely to leave employment, or less likely to enter it, because of ill-health.”

The research was based on a sample of 206,000 participants aged 16 to 64 years and not in full-time education.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.