June 22, 2021 10.20 am This story is over 13 months old

Lockdown may cause ‘flu epidemic’ this winter, Lincolnshire health bosses say

Immunity to new strains may be under-developed

There are fears people could be at higher risk of getting flu this winter after last year’s lockdown led to “effectively” no respiratory viruses.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday did not rule out further lockdowns in the winter, warning that it could be a “rough” season.

Andy Fox, deputy director of public health at Lincolnshire County Council said there were concerns that “we didn’t have a flu season, essentially, last year, simply because of self-isolation.”

He said the protections people undertook from COVID-19 had worked to lessen the impact of the virus and that he was not “particularly worried” but these are the kinds of things [authorities] are looking at and thinking about”.

However, he said: “The concern that some researchers and scientists have is that this means there’ll be less immunity in the population this winter and as people will be mixing we might see a significant and high rise in flu and we might get a sort of a flu epidemic.”

He said this could be because people have not developed immunity to any new strains of flu which might “make for a worse flu season”.

He added: “I certainly hope that’s not the case but all the same things that protect against COVID in terms of social distancing will also protect against flu transmission.

“So a lockdown could potentially make sense if we are in a situation where we’re very concerned not just about COVID but about other respiratory viruses circulating.”

He said he hoped that the COVID vaccination and flu vaccination programmes would be effective and lead to low rates and urged everyone to get their jabs when invited to do so.

Lincolnshire’s coronavirus cases up to June 21 and showing the peaks for coronavirus over winter.

Last Winter, Mr Fox said “there was no flu in Lincolnshire essentially” in the data, meaning that although it was likely some had it, it generally did not get bad enough for hospital viral screening.

“The really encouraging position was there was nobody in hospital last winter,  with respiratory viruses, who came back positive for flu.

“That was pretty much the case nationally. Certainly at one point, nationally, where we’d normally have had the peak of flu season, I was told that there had been zero reports of confirmed flu cases in hospitals in the country.”

He stressed that it did not mean “there was no flu, or that we’d wiped it out” but that because everybody was social distancing and COVID was the main virus, nobody who was poorly enough to go to hospital came back positive for flu.

During the pandemic, COVID deniers have used the lack of other respiratory viruses as ammunition to stoke conspiracy theories, however, Mr Fox said instead that it “reinforces the messages that actually, lockdown worked”.