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Flu ‘disaster’ in Australia sparks fears Europe will suffer this winter


A winter flu surge is now feared. Stock image

A winter flu surge is now feared. Stock image

A winter flu surge is now feared. Stock image

The worsening flu season in Australia has provoked fears among scientists that parts of Europe will follow suit this winter, with mass infections and hospitalisations among all age groups.

Australia is bracing for its worst flu season in five years, after Covid restrictions suppressed the circulation of the influenza virus in 2020 and 2021. Almost 40,000 cases have been reported in the country since the beginning of the year, 26,000 of which have come in the second and third weeks of May.

Hospitalisations are doubling every week in the state of Queensland, while nationwide rates are particularly high among young people.

The Australian Medical Association has warned of a looming “disaster”, with scientists in the UK fearful that similar scenes could be repeated once winter sets in.

Julian Tang, a professor of respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, said Britain does not always follow the trend in the southern hemisphere.

But he said that this year, “I think we will see more flu as Covid restrictions are lifted (enhanced social mixing and international travel), together with reduced cross-protective immunity to any recently circulating flu strains because of restrictions.”

Prof Tang said the emerging data suggests that the global incidence of influenza is returning to its pre-Covid levels.

Different strains of the virus are recirculating in different parts of the world, some of which are more transmissible and deadly than others.

“In fact, there may be some overshoot because of that lack of previous exposure/immunity during the pandemic years – so we may experience a worse flu season in the coming winter than those that we experienced pre-Covid,” Prof Tang added.

“This may also apply to other seasonal respiratory viruses, that have all been suppressed significantly due to Covid restrictions.”

Professor Deenan Pillay, a virologist at University College London, also said he believed the UK “will follow the southern hemisphere” this year.

The World Health Organisation convenes technical consultations twice a year, in February and September, to recommend which viruses to include in the seasonal flu vaccines for the northern and southern hemispheres.

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Health authorities in Australia have said that it is “too early” to determine the effectiveness of the flu vaccine that is currently being rolled out in the southern hemisphere.

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