COVID-19 shutdowns eliminate Aussie flu season

According to The Economist, COVID-19 shutdowns and social distancing policies have all but eliminated the flu season across the Southern Hemisphere:

Although 2020 has been a difficult year in many ways for Aussies and Kiwis, it has not necessarily been bad for their physical health. This winter only around 0.4% of people in the two countries said they were suffering from flu-like symptoms, down by four-fifths compared with last year. Other countries in the southern hemisphere have reported similar slowdowns in the spread of influenza.

The cause for this steep decline in infections is clear. Governments all around the world have enacted costly lockdowns to fight the novel coronavirus. In doing so, not only have countries in the southern hemisphere slowed the spread of covid-19, but they also appear inadvertently to have stopped the proliferation of another deadly disease: the flu…

There the total number of influenza tests has fallen by just 20%, while the share of tests that have come up positive has plummeted to record lows…

Data from Australia tell a remarkable tale. From May to mid-August of 2015-19, an average of 86,000 Australians tested positive for the flu each year, and around 130 died of it. This winter the government has registered only 627 influenza infections and just a single death.

Hopefully changed public attitudes to hand washing and staying home when sick will lead to long-term reductions in flu infection rates.

Leith van Onselen
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Comments

  1. The Penske FileMEMBER

    Only 130 Aussies die each year of the flu? Is this the magic playing with numbers like “dying with COVID or dying of COVID”?
    Good point about behavioral change but far less people have died this year “with” the flu’s big brother.
    It’s time to look after the vulnerable and let this thing rip.

    • It would appear some of the experts don’t agree with your “protect the vulnerable and let it rip” approach (Melb Infectious Diseases Dr, reported in the SMH with the last 2 wks). He said it’s impossible to protect them as you would need to isolate those who for the aged, work in close proximity to the sick in hospitals and schools.

      Let us know when you’ve worked out how to do that with thousands of schools, aged care homes and hundreds of hospitals.

      Edit: was reading a piece recently on how well Japan has managed CV in hospitals and aged care homes and a large part appears to be community attitudes to how they behave. They also supposedly have much lower yearly flu deaths.

      • Fabian AlderseyMEMBER

        Agree. “look after the vulnerable” = “let them die”.

        Its so amazingly easy to say “look after the vulnerable” and “just throw more money at it” without taking into account the reasons why things are the way they currently are.

        • Only if you are looked after by the current Victorian Premier and the current Aged Care minister. That is why things are what they are. Corrupt incompetence on a massive scale in Victoria and a failure to learn the lessons of New York and Italy in Aged Care. Ministerial responsibility is dead.

          • What has this got to do with me?

            Why don’t you answer the question

            Were you calling for lockdowns prior to COVID?

          • i dont get how people forget the contagiousness of covid if left to its own devices, and they’ve forgotten the images of overrun hospitals around the planet. This continual comparison to common cold and whataboutism is just fckn stupid.

        • Maybe because CV kills much more efficiently?

          Sweden has 6.2x more CV kills than Influenza and Pneumonia and that is with some isolation and several orders of magnitude higher awareness which made changes in habits.
          One good thing when population is pruned of weak – next year the survival rate is much better for the selected populace.

  2. Diogenes the CynicMEMBER

    I thought the figure for Aussie deaths from flu each year was more like 3000? I am not sure where I saw the figure but it sounded right at somewhere around 0.01%.

    • Absolute rubbish. Australian and international virology and genetic experts have stated numerous times that its DNA shows that is not the case.

      Find another conspiracy.

    • Another preprint that asks many difficult questions about the Shi Zhengli nature paper: Major Concerns on the Identification of Bat Coronavirus Strain RaTG13 and Quality of Related Nature Paper.
      quote:

      Zhengli Shi’s previous publications related to bat coronaviruses have identified a total of 365 bat coronavirus strains from Yunnan province, from a total of 1981 bat samples

      Given that the most prolific global research centre for Coronaviruses was Wuhan, Occam’s razor says the most likely explanation for the origin is a lab escape from her facility.

      • Can you explain that against this?

        This philosophical razor advocates that when presented with competing hypotheses about the same prediction, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions,[3] and that this is not meant to be a way of choosing between hypotheses that make different predictions.

      • Great link. Maybe “dennis” is a chinese astroturfer.

        From your link
        “The only hint that SARS-CoV-2 is NOT genetically fabricated, but of natural origin, is this RaTG13. If RaTG13 was just a string of letters, fraudulently entered into international databases – and without any live/dead (feces) samples, this would make a completely new story. Apparently, Li and WIV are unable to deliver lab specimen on RaTG13.”

        Exactly – they fabricated RaTG13 and then said ooh look! Covid-19 just looks like this Bat coronavirus we discovered last year. What a coincidence! Except no bat and no samples of RaTG13 exist – it was just made up to cover their tracks.

        This would make an Excellent Movie.

        • He’s totally CCP.
          Anyway I also wanted to say my son got me hooked on Fortnite and now refuses to play as bored with it.
          We should squad up!
          username – deadlyaussies50

        • Please wear hearing protection while in your echo chamber. CCP, lmaso lololololololol.

          You two have time to game? Thought you’d be too busy on Qanon to find the time!

        • Jumping jack flash

          Ooh I have one!

          RaTG13 certainly did exist but probably several years ago while they were naturally mutating this thing inside thousands of bats in their “research” facility.

          Probably why they couldn’t produce any of it. The bats were long burnt, and the virus had mutated “past” that point.

          Some science guy also said that after a while they would have switched from bats to human cell cultures, another reason why RaTG13, the last virus mutation that was grown inside a bat, couldn’t be found.

      • Ironic Considering the origins of Occams Razor was actually to convince people not to question the “simple truth of gods existence”.

        The idea is attributed to English Franciscan friar William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), a scholastic philosopher and theologian who used a preference for simplicity to defend the idea of divine miracles.

        The only thing simple about the idea that the….

        most likely explanation for the origin is a lab escape from her facility.

        ….is that you simply prefer to think it is man made and not due to the natural crossing of species that all the worlds virology experts concur on.

        • RobotSenseiMEMBER

          QAnon have so many virology experts though, they have the best ones, they ask the best questions, they’re absolutely the right people to tell you the virus was made in a lab and sent worldwide after nuking one of their own cities with it first. 100% rational.

        • Here is something I wrote earlier
          https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2020/04/chinas-exporting-of-covid-19-must-not-go-unpunished/#comment-3829906

          TL;DR There was no Bat like SARS viruses in Wuhan as of 2015.

          There was a small random sample of Wuhan residents (n=240) in 2015 to specifically test for Bat-like SARS antibodies. There was a single positive.

          However, in high risk area’s 1000km away residents living close to the caves that are home to the bats, the same sampling revealed a 2.7% prevalence (n=208). The Wuhan tests were to act as a negative control .

          Documented by Shi Zhengli aka “Bat Woman” in Serological Evidence of Bat SARS-Related Coronavirus Infection in Humans, China ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6178078/ )

          Shi Zhengli’s story in Scientific American highlights the difficulty of finding the bats and gaining positive samples. It took more than 8 months of hunting around caves to find these viruses. It seems these pathogens are actually quite difficult to find in the wild.
          How China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus ( https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-chinas-bat-woman-hunted-down-viruses-from-sars-to-the-new-coronavirus1/ )

          Another piece of evidence from Shi Zhengli: Human-animal interactions and bat coronavirus spillover potential among rural residents in Southern China
          my bold. Note, I have elected not to cherry pick only point one, but to quote to allow for true scholarship even though it raises counterpoints.

          The low levels of sero-positivity found in the study could reflect a number of factors: 1) the rarity of spillover and bat-to-human transmission, as has been reported for other virus-host systems [[50], [51], [52], [53], [54]]; 2) the use of a snowball technique for sample selection that could have biased the population sampled; 3) the limited diversity of CoVs that this study tested for; 4) the possibility that these infections cause high mortality rates and therefore the number of survivors and number of seropositive people is low, although this seems unlikely because the mortality rate from SARS was >10% during an outbreak that included hospital exposure and therefore likely high infectious doses [55,56]; and 5) that antibodies to these viruses wane rapidly in humans. The latter hypothesis is supported by findings that antibodies to SARS decline rapidly (2–3 years) after illness [57].

          Expanding this approach to a larger population, using a longitudinal (repeated sampling) approach, and targeting people who are in the higher-risk categories identified here may provide a larger number of sero-positives and more critical information on the driving factors of viral spillover. However, despite the small sample sizes, this study suggests that there are a substantial number of people in rural Southern China who are exposed to bat-borne viruses, and that exposure likely occurs through the daily or normal practices of rural communities, rather than specific high-risk behaviours (e.g. wild animal hunting). Considering the proven potential of some SARSr-CoVs currently circulating in bats in southern China, to infect human cells, cause clinical signs in humanized mouse models, and lead to infections that cannot be treated with monoclonal therapies effective against SARS-CoV [[58], [59], [60]], this represents a clear and present danger to our biosafety and public health. Further studies to determine the relationship between SARSr-CoV and HKU10-CoV exposure and illness in people may help elucidate this risk and provide critical mitigation strategies.

  3. Shame about all the people dying of second and third order effects of the lockdown like no cancer screening, not presenting at AandE for stroke and heart attack, suicides, mental health,etc etc.
    Love the cherry picked pro lockdown propaganda.
    Makes you wonder how humanity survived through numerous other pandemics that actually were serious without your benevolent government locking you up.

    • And you have no absolute numbers for those who may or may not have or be dying due to those illnesses either.
      So really no-one can compare, we have locked down for a reason, end of story.

      • No Glenda, only unquestioning sheep say end of story.
        There are numerous different viewpoints on this and to me the worst possible outcome is what is happening now. We have allowed fear of a flu virus to induce us to give up most of our civil liberties. The death rate is insignificant, what has happened is tyranny and economic destruction plus numerous deaths from other causes who are younger than 86 and not in care homes.

        • Yep, end of story.

          What’s the CFR again? 🤔

          Better still, what about the quality-adjusted health metrics like number of lives lost in YEARS that health professionals have been using for practically ever, but now conveniently forgotten.

          More like end of your story, chump! 👍

          • or the metric of cost per QALY saved, which we have been using for decades to justify PBS funding

            But got thrown out the window for covid – no expense spared

          • Explain your parents it is cheaper for them to die than to be saved (if their health is fragile) hence they should oblige and comply then let us know what they said.
            It is easy to play with statistical numbers when emotional is detached from death.

  4. How has COVID lock downs impacted diabetes rates, coronary disease diagnosis and treatment, alcoholism, mental health, divorces, domestic violence etc? All are preventable to some extent in the same way lock downs have slowed/stopped flu and COVID. We have mostly ignored the other “preventable” diseases and still allow activities which would exacerbate people dying from them, why is there so much myopic thinking on this topic?

    We all need to be really honest with ourselves and each other and say this isn’t about preventing necessary deaths. There are lots of preventable deaths but we dont force people to go to the gym, we dont stop people buying excesses of booze or crappy food which is slowly killing most of the population. We are the fattest country on the planet with 100% proven consequences. Lock downs are not making us skinnier, improving mental health or improving the quality of our social relationships…a known indicator of mental health.

    There is no real conversation while we have this single issue focus on COVID.

    • It’s it single issue? People stuck at home have a rare opportunity to adjust their life styles away from diabetes vulnerability, to fast away their cancers or take time for chemo without worrying about work. To avoid car accidents and stress related strokes. To work on their marriages it to get the higher jobseeker and run from domestic violence.

  5. This is just an appearance of flu being gone.
    Number of flu tests being done in Australia and probably other listed countries is so low and so poorly targeted
    How can find any flu case when no tests are being done.
    In some european countries not so obsessed with covid testing flu cases during off season have been in line with previous years

  6. Almost all covid death have been in nursing homes, still mortality rates in nursing homes is far lower this year thank to no flu i suppose.COVID is crushing babybomer’s kids but saving baby boomers’ parents

  7. I remember when “more handwashing and stay home from work if you have a sneeze, runny nose or cough” was the approved approach to tackling covid too. Then the whole world went and got itself hysterical. So apparently our leaders had to shut everything down, pushed into this by our earnest betters and influencers who really know what is good for the the rest of us, and the world.

  8. Jumping jack flash

    I just think we’re incredibly lucky to have this pandemic to justify the pouring of billions, eventually trillions, of government money into that smoking, charred hole of debt that exists where our economy used to be.

    It is not difficult to see that the whole place was on the way down, slowly but surely, since 2008.

    The debt just wasn’t growing fast enough to sustain the debt, despite cutting interest rates every few months for 10 years to make people eligible for larger and larger piles of the stuff at the same (or worse) set of financial circumstances.

    So, thank you, coronavirus. You’ve saved the global economy.

    • RobotSenseiMEMBER

      The economy is being palliated. Given some extra QALYs, if you will. Was the economy going to die anyway? Can we justify throwing all this money and resources at our 80 year-old economy in a nursing home with multiple co-morbid conditions that probably would have died anyway? Is it unethical to put this patient in the ICU? Only time will tell.

  9. Thinking out loud for fun, as I love this stuff…

    Interesting. Lockdown seems to have an effect of reducing infections (and therefore probably deaths as well) by in the order of 5-fold. This is useful data for broad modelling, though with large errors.

    It implies that Covid likely would have been at least 5-timea worse without the lockdown.

    If I was doing some further rough modelling, I’d wonder if the ratios of the r0s (contagiousness) of Covid and the common flu could give me further insight: r0(Covid) / r0(common flu) ~ 3/1.3 ~ 2.3.

    Now, I’d wonder if the lockdown factor times the above ratio would give a rough idea of how much Covid would have been than the flu if we didn’t lock down: 5 x 2.3 = 11.5.

    I would then add another factor for the conservative death rate ratio between Covid (0.5%?) and the common flu (0.1%): 0.5/0.1 = 5.

    I’d then multiply the above results for another very rough, rough indicator of how much worse Covid would have been without the lockdown (and assuming normal common flu levels of mitigatory behavior, which is normally not much): 11.5 x 5 = 57.5

    So, my rough, rough order of magnitude modelling suggests Covid would be around 50 times worse than the common flu (infections and deaths) without lockdown.

    Personally, I find this encouraging, as I’ve watched a lot of data for a long time, and it all seemed to be 10-100 times worse than the common flu, which is consistent with the above rough result.

    Massive error in the above analysis, but I’ve only been after an order of magnitude result, and recent before and during lockdown common flu data is exactly what I was waiting for.

    • Consenus is that COVID as about 2.5x as bad as the flu, but much less deadly for children, slightly less deadly for under 60s, but much more deadly compared to the flu for those older than that.
      Shutting down schools certainly makes zero sense.

    • Nope, I’m wrong again…don’t try to think too hard whilst on the loo, eh?

      I shouldn’t have used the deaths ratio…so, lockdown reduction estimate is 11.5, rough, rough…so, 10…

      Estimate lockdown reduced figures by about 10 times, give or take (more, of you use an r0 for Covid of > 3.0).

      If anyone comes across more comparative flu before and duringockdown data less us know…this can change things…

    • Further thinking out loud…I’ve assumed that the infections extrapolation based on the r0s ratio would be linear wrt to the ratio; however, I have a guy feeling it may actually be a power relationship, with a whole exponent > 1, as the r0 infection iterations would be non-linear …which would imply a non-lockdown/lockdown factor of > 11.5.

      Fun musings! 😉

    • Further thoughts:

      10 really is the minimum factor.

      The model’s simplistic factor, if applied to deaths, assumes that hospitals don’t get overwhelmed, which we know isn’t true…so, if a health system gets overwhelmed the death factor would be >> 10.

  10. Massive increase of flu vaccinations probably reduced the numbers too. Everyone I know had a flu shot this year because they don’t want to get hit with both flu and co-vid. When I went to get mine earlier in the year, pharmacist said this was a record year for them. Also said flu shots only protects you against 4 flu strains, however there’s over 20 different strains. They have some advanced computer modelling to predict which one is most likely to cause outbreaks and produce vaccinations for that strain (for that year). Explains why you can still get the flu despite getting flu shot.

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