In the United States and other developed countries in the Northern Hemisphere, there has been anxiety about the consequences of the COVID-19 caseload overlapping with seasonal influenza (flu) in the autumn and winter (2020-2021). There have been alarming projections that hospitals and other medical facilities could be overwhelmed. In response, there are already public campaigns underway urging Americans to get their seasonal flu shots.
In South Africa, already with the highest COVID-19 caseload in Africa with over 600,000 cases, seasonal flu most years kills some 12,000 South Africans. Late August, the end of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, is the end of the flu season. This year, however, there have been almost no cases of seasonal influenza in South Africa. According to American media, flu has also largely passed by other Southern Hemisphere countries, such as Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.
South African experts attribute the steps taken against coronavirus as stopping flu in its tracks. Shutting down schools (where flu incubates frequently), wearing masks, and social distancing have proven highly effective in stopping flu. Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, many more South Africans than usual have availed themselves of flu shots. Why are those steps so much more successful against flu than COVID-19? Those same experts note that COVID-19 is much more lethal and spreads more easily and quickly than flu. Measures strong enough to stop flu are not strong enough alone to stop COVID-19. Nevertheless, the news from South Africa and the Southern Hemisphere is promising. Maybe the Northern Hemisphere will be spared the misery of flu in the upcoming autumn and winter flu season.
A side note: COVID-19 also seems to be on the retreat in South Africa, with the caseload declining. President Cyril Ramaphosa has reduced the lockdown, though mask wearing and social distancing remain mandatory.