Coronavirus has cured the flu

So far, 2020 has seemed like some sort of bad joke. The kind that, once cracked, earns you long, withering looks from anyone in earshot.

In Australia, it started with the bushfire season from hell. Our air quality levels plummeted to among the worst in the entire world. Our landscapes were transformed into apocalyptic scenes with smokey, blood red skies. Zombie dingoes prowled through the flames, chewing on babies*.

Then it got worse.

Our already sh*t-stained fan was bombarded by a second fecal load in the form of a coronavirus pandemic. People started dying in droves. The living were locked up, scared and isolated. Toilet paper supplies were rapidly dwindling.

But in among the disintegration of life as we knew it, coronavirus seemed to bestow an interesting perk. And I’m not talking about the extra Netflix binge time.

While the news media religiously delivered ‘breaking news’ every time another person bit the proverbial coronavirus dust, the usual suspects that snuff us out in more typical years seemed uncharacteristically silent.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), influenza-related deaths in the country totalled 3,102 in 2018, ranking the flu as the number 12 most effective killer of Aussies. This was not an unusual flu season, representing only a slight uptick from the 2,497 influenza-related deaths recorded in 2013.

This year however, the flu seems to have suddenly run out of puff. And not just in a small way. So far, there have been just 36 influenza-related deaths in Australia.

Now sure — we’re just over a month into winter. There’s certainly time for the flu to gather a little more mortal momentum. But even if we were to quintuple the current numbers, the total influenza-related deaths would still stand at less than 6% of the numbers experienced in preceding years.

There’s no denying it; coronavirus has cured the flu.

The next question, of course, is why. Why are our influenza death digits so drastically lower than their historical averages?

Iso is why.

Evading our fellow humans eliminates the opportunity for us to pass our pathogens around. Not just SARS-CoV-2 pathogens, but any pathogens. No germ sharing = no germ spreading = less germ-induced dying. It seems to be that simple. The numbers speak for themselves.

It’s clear that being social beings is inherently risky business. Being alive, likewise. As soon as we leave the relative safety of our homes and interact with the outside world, we necessarily put ourselves at an increased risk of death.

But being social beings that interact with the outside world is also precisely what makes us human. It’s what gives us meaning and a reason to get up in the morning. As J.A. Shedd once said; ships in the harbour are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

So what does this all mean for our current situation?

All around the world, we are seeing second coronavirus ‘waves’. Infection rates improve, lockdowns lift, infections spike and lockdowns are reinstated to get it all back under control again.

Realistically, this cycle is likely to be a long term thing unless we either change our management approach or get our hands on an effective vaccine. And finding a vaccine that effectively targets respiratory viruses is notoriously challenging … so we probably shouldn’t hold our breath for that to happen anytime soon.

Which leaves us to weigh up the merits of risk vs. reward.

We need to determine how much potential danger we are prepared to weather in the interests of preserving our way of life. We need to work out how long we are prepared to forgo our freedoms in the interest of safety. And we need to know far we will go to protect ourselves before we’ve sacrificed everything that was worthy of protection in the first place.

For everyone, the tipping point will be different. But our pre-COVID world was not a risk-free world either.

At some point, we may simply need to acknowledge that being alive carries an inexorable risk of death.

And shutting ourselves away from an interminable storm, merely to arrive safely at death’s door a little further down the track, doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense.

*This may or may not have actually happened.

Originally published at on July 6, 2020.



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