The scientists behind a 'life-saving and critical' Covid study that tracks cases have said they are "really disappointed" by a UK Government decision to axe funding.

The ZOE Covid Study, which is fronted by Professor Tim Spector of King's College London, said they had just been told that funding will end in less than a month after being told "only a few weeks" ago that continued support was extremely likely.

More than 4.7 million people have contributed to the study using an app with 850,000 daily contributions providing data including positive test results and symptoms.

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It provided evidence that the Delta variant was causing different symptoms to the original strain of Covid and led to Prof Spector lobbying the government to change official guidance.  In particular, coughing and loss of the sense of taste and smell were found to be less common.

The tracker has also led to more than 40 peer reviewed scientific papers which have helped shape government policy in managing the virus.

The owners said it had huge potential to contribute to research on other illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and dementia.

In an email to contributors the owners said: "We are all really disappointed. Together we have saved lives, made critical scientific discoveries and proven that community scientists at home can achieve more than anyone thought possible.

"We believe that what we have built together can change healthcare permanently.

"Not just fighting Covid and the pandemics of the future, but fighting the diseases we've accepted as inevitable: Cancer, Heart Disease, Dementia and scores of others.

"With your help and support we’ve developed a novel population health app that saves lives and the impact on common major diseases could be huge."

The government agreed to fund the ZOE study six months after it was launched and continued to support it for 18 months. The three co-owners have said they will step in and finance it until a more permanent solution is found.

It was initially launched to look at gut health amid growing evidence of the role it plays in immunity and illness.

Contributors were being encouraged to write to the UKHSA to advocate for continued funding.

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