COVIDSafe measures appear to be having a positive flow-on effect, with the overall number of deaths down in New South Wales this winter, compared to last year.
“When compared to the same period in 2019, the number of registered deaths were lower in May and June,” said an official release from NSW Health. “While there is a lag in notification of deaths, there is no indication to date that the Covid-19 pandemic in NSW is causing an overall increase in mortality from any cause.”
The data from the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages shows the number of deaths from any cause started to fall from last year’s rates in mid-April and continued on a downward trend towards July, when the latest data was collected. In 2019, the number of deaths rose by nearly 1000 over that same period. This year, the number of deaths fell by a few hundred.
Similarly, the Murrumbidgee Local Health District is reporting a sharp decline in the number of flu cases recorded in the region.
“Testing for flu has increased significantly this year, being a respiratory illness with symptoms like Covid,” said a MLHD spokesperson, “However despite the increase in testing less than 0.1% of tests come back positive.”
Jennie Fischer, Practice Manager for the Tumut Family Medical Centre, estimated that flu cases have dropped at least 80-90 per cent in the Snowy Valleys. She said the centre has had “nothing coming through,” and that of the roughly 150 people visiting the Covid clinics, all are tested for the flu and common cold and “there’s almost no flu around.”
Mrs Fischer said there was still some rhinovirus (the common cold), perhaps because it’s more easily transmitted than other viruses, but no Influenza A or B.
“It’s hand hygiene, social distancing and people aren’t going out,” said Mrs Fischer.
“All the things we say to people every year. It’s as simple as that.”
With more concern about Covid-19, Mrs Fischer said people appear to be more “focussed” on abiding by the rules, but the same recommendations to stop Covid are used to stop every other kind of virus.
There have been a total of 111 recorded cases of the flu in the MLHD, but the vast majority were from people returning from overseas at the beginning of the year. Since March, there have only been 12 cases.
The numbers aren’t broken down specifically for the Snowy Valleys, but the MLHD said “as you can see there is next to nothing to report.”
Local pharmacist Luke Peacock at the Bush Chemist said anecdotally, there seem to be fewer cases of respiratory illnesses in the area.
“The one observation we’ve made is that we’re doing a lot less cold and flu medication and I imagine that is because we’re all social distancing,” said Mr Peacock. “What works for coronavirus also works for influenza and rhinovirus and all the other viruses we get.”
He said sales of one of the more common medications, Codral Day & Night tablets, was down about 66 per cent for winter (June, July and August), which was reflected across several different brands.
“Hand hygiene, socially distancing and staying at home when you’re sick has protected the community against flu this year,” agreed the MLHD’s Director Public Health Tracey Oakman.
“There was also a significant uptake of flu vaccine in MLHD. We certainly expected a decrease in flu cases, but the low numbers are just extraordinary.”
Statewide, the graph for positive flu cases shows a virtual ‘0 per cent’ from mid-April through late August, compared to a peak of roughly 30 per cent average for late August over the past five years.
Mrs Fischer said she’s anticipating that the local respiratory clinics will get busier in the next few months, as NSW schools start requiring students to be Covid tested if they show any symptoms before they’ll be allowed to return to classes.
“We’re strongly encouraging people to get tested if they’ve got any signs,” she said, listing several of the common symptoms such as the sniffles, aches and pains or – recently added – diarrhoea.
There have been no records of flu-related deaths in NSW since May and 12 total in the first four months of this year. NSW has recorded 54 Covid-related deaths for 2020. Last year, there were 188-flu related deaths in the state.