Hundreds of Australian flu deaths have been prevented this year due to the lockdown restrictions taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
According to the ABC, from January to June 2020, there were 36 deaths from influenza. In the same period last year, that number was 430. In fact, there hasn’t been a flu-related death in Australia since April.
Last year’s flu season was a particularly bad one, which has made the difference in these figures even starker. From January to June 2019, more than 132,000 people had been diagnosed with the flu, while in the same time period this year, only 21,000 people have been diagnosed.
“What it’s telling us is that many of the measures that are working to contain the spread of COVID-19 within the community are also very effective at reducing transmission of influenza,” Australian Medical Association NSW vice-president Andrew Zuschmann told the ABC.
The emphasis on hand hygiene, coupled with social distancing and the closure of schools for many weeks is most likely why there has been a massive drop in flu infections and related deaths.
Travel restrictions and the closure of international borders has also helped, says the ABC, as it’s given less opportunities for travellers to bring the flu to Australia from other countries.
The rates of flu vaccinations also jumped up massively this year, with 8.8 million doses of the flu vaccine administered between March and mid-July. This is two million more jabs than the same time last year.
While this is great news for this season, it could have negative effects on next year’s flu season. Experts say that it’s currently difficult to tell how the level of immunity to the flu will look like next year.
“It also depends on what happens in terms of socialising in communities, how early a COVID-19 vaccine is available and what happens overseas,” Ian Barr, deputy director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, told the ABC.