Grim prediction for next flu season


Queensland has had just 307 flu-related public hospital admissions this year - about one-tenth of the average for the past five years - but a health expert warns of a likely resurgence in 2021.

The 2015-19 mean for public hospital flu admissions in the state was 2928, with an annual average of 376 patients needing intensive care.

In 2020 so far, just 28 public hospital patients have been admitted to Queensland intensive care units with flu.

That's off the back of just 6002 flu notifications this year - well short of the mean for the previous five years of 35,975 at the same stage of year.

Queensland's public emergency departments - many of them overflowing during last year's severe flu season - have recorded just 993 flu presentations so far this year, compared with the average for the past five years of 3178.

Griffith University's infectious disease expert Paul Van Buynder said he expected flu numbers to bounce back next year.

"We're not going to be able to do the same social distancing because the population won't accept that we're going to restrict all public activity again all the way through winter next year," he said.

"What we're going to see is a return of influenza.

"How bad that is will depend on how many people get vaccinated and how much our borders are open next winter. It's a risk that we'll have both influenza and COVID circulating during winter, particularly for older people."



Prof Van Buynder said he did not expect the flu season in 2021 to be as bad as those in 2017 or 2019 because international borders were not expected to reopen "to any large extent by the middle of next year".

However, he warned Queenslanders to expect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to continue to affect how people live for years.

"I can't see people behaving like they did last year for another half decade at least, as in life as we knew it, the way people mingled, the way people met, all those sorts of things," he said.

"COVID won't be gone next year and there'll be a long period of time when people behave differently, run their businesses differently.

"The real challenge will come for us when we finally open our borders and flu and COVID come back in more strength, and how we manage that, because you can't suppress this forever in Australia without having the economy totally trashed."

Prof Van Buynder said he expected more people to work from home and for workers to avoid handshakes moving forward as a result of the pandemic.

"Given everything that's happened, I think there will still be a significant amount of Zoom activity and people doing things remotely rather than meeting," he said.

Originally published as Expert's warning after flu admissions plunge

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