Early-season flu is at record lows in Australia thanks to improved hygiene and social distancing, says a leading public health advocate who wants these practices to continue after COVID-19 dissipates.
The latest report by the Department of Health-backed Australian FluTracking Team shows just 0.2 per cent of nearly 75,000 participants in its online survey last week had influenza-like illness.
That compares with a five-year average above 1.5 per cent for the same time of year.
As governments ease coronavirus-related restrictions, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says Australians need to learn from the experience after previously becoming “a bit relaxed about hygiene”.
Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Terry Slevin says while it was always known regular, thorough handwashing and social distancing could prevent flu and related transmissions, often the focus had been on vaccines and finding cures.
“Rates of flu have gone through the floor,” Prof Slevin says. “Record low rates at the moment demonstrate the benefits of the kind of things we’ve been doing, driven by the COVID pandemic. It makes sense as we come out of this that we review what we’ve learnt.
“I expect we’ll come to the realisation that we do need to refocus on some of those very basic public health measures, and hygiene and distance are two very obvious examples.”
Prof Slevin says it would be “madness to go back to business as usual” and he believes stickers would remain on retail floors after the pandemic so people continue keeping their distance from each other.