They believe Covid-19 restrictions in countries such as Australia, Hong Kong and South Africa have suppressed influenza. Flu patterns in southern countries, which have winter earlier, can sometimes help predict how severe the UK’s season will be. If the same trend occurred here it could stop hospitals being overwhelmed if there is a second coronavirus peak.
Gary McLean, a professor in molecular immunology at London Metropolitan University, said: “Peak flu season for the southern hemisphere coincided with when most of the world went into these quite vicious lockdowns.
“Their milder flu seasons probably had a lot to do with those measures limiting not only the spread of Covid-19 but other viruses.”
A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said southern hemisphere countries had seen only a tiny fraction of the flu cases expected in a normal year.
Figures from Australia, Chile and South Africa, whose flu season is from June to August, showed just 51 cases among more than 83,000 people tested. It is a positivity rate of 0.06 percent compared with about 14 percent in previous years.
The report said: “If extensive community mitigation measures continue throughout the fall, influenza activity in the US might remain low and the season might be blunted or delayed.”
Prof McLean warned, however, that unless there were stronger control measures to limit transmission there might not be a “huge impact” on the UK’s flu season.”
Prof McLean also noted there had been a rise in children catching the common cold since they returned to school. He said: “What I worry about is these overlapping symptoms of all the different viruses and how we’re going to determine which is which, especially with the current testing problems.”
Health chiefs aim to vaccinate around half the population – 30 million – this year, in the UK’s biggest flu jab programme.
Children, over-65s and healthcare workers will get the first doses, followed by those aged 50 to 65.