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How could the flu season be different this year?

For many of us, it may seem as if we are already currently living in a post-pandemic society. The government has been keen to return to how life was before the pandemic, recently allowing businesses to re-open and lifting the capacity limits for events. Much of the population are now fully vaccinated – so why are health experts worried about the upcoming winter?    

There is little memory of last year’s flu season, as the focus was largely on the evolving Covid-19 virus. The ‘stay at home’ message communicated through Covid lockdowns last November and January meant that there were fewer cases of flu than usual. Flu transmission fell considerably due to the enforcement of social distancing and mask-wearing, however, the loss of these restrictions in recent months has already manifested as a rise in both Covid-19 and flu cases at present. 

Scientists fear that there will be a surge in flu cases this winter

The relaxing of social distancing guidelines amongst other preventative measures is likely to worsen the incidence of both the flu and covid-19 this winter. Scientists fear that there will be a surge in flu cases this winter, predicting that the outbreak will be particularly intense.

Flu seasons usually involve a proportion of the population having natural immunity to infection because of contracting it the previous year. The strains of flu differ each year and our lack of exposure to last year’s strains means that the population is more susceptible to infection this year as our levels of immunity are much lower.  

With the rise in Covid cases coinciding with this increased flu circulation, the NHS services are likely to experience a particularly tough next few months. The number of people hospitalised due to either illness could majorly overwhelm the NHS.   

The UK government has no interest in implementing another lockdown. Alternatively, they have a Plan B that they will administer only if the NHS is on the verge of becoming severely overwhelmed. This would involve bringing back mandatory face coverings in some areas of society, introducing vaccine passports, and encouraging people to work from home. It seems as if they are largely overlooking the chaos that this winter may bring. Their dismissal of the urges from health experts to implement Plan B sooner rather than later is perhaps just another example of the government’s lack of foresight since the beginning of the pandemic. Will the government’s lapse in judgment and failure to consult these concerns early on cause further problems down the line?  

Experts believe that the vaccines themselves are not enough

There is now increased encouragement to get the flu vaccination. As of 22nd October, the government has launched their largest-ever flu vaccine programme with the advertising campaign to “get vaccinated, get boosted, get protected.” The government seems determined that this is the most effective way to combat Covid-19 and flu transmission. However, experts believe that the vaccines themselves are not enough to prevent the huge rise in infections. It is questionable as to why the government is not introducing the same restrictions that they had this time last year. The measures enforced last winter have clearly shown significance in reducing the spread of infection and the number of hospitalisations. By refusing to implement restrictions sooner rather than later, the government is largely overlooking the increase in the backlog that this will create for our key services throughout the first half of 2022.  

It appears as if the government believes that just ‘advising’ measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing instead of making these mandatory is enough to mitigate the impact these infections will have on our services this winter.  

Some hospitals are already close to reaching full capacity. The government may underestimate the unpredictability and danger of this year’s flu season and is failing to acknowledge that enforcing restrictions would increase compliance with such measures.  

By taking some precautions, such as maintaining good hygiene, wearing a mask, and getting the flu jab, we can help to slow the spread of infection. The best we can do as a community is to prepare ourselves for the upcoming months, with the hope that we can lessen the burden created by these illnesses.   

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