COVID-19 lockdowns and vaccinations driving flu deaths down

As we keep a close eye on the coronavirus numbers, one of the biggest numbers to come out on Tuesday relates to flu.

Counties Manukau DHB director of population health Dr Gary Jackson says Middlemore Hospital figures show influenza's down 94 percent from last year.

"It's been quite a remarkable season, there's been such a low rate of respiratory illnesses," he says.

"We've had 86 people across the year who've come in with a presumptive diagnosis of influenza, compared to 1300 last year at the same time."

The Institute of Environmental Science and Research says it's seen low levels of influenza-like illness reported this winter.

In the community, 178 specimens were collected from patients presenting to GPs with ill symptoms, and none were influenza positive. For the same period last year, 1486 specimens were tested of which 878 (59.1 percent) were influenza positive.

There have been 1694 acute respiratory hospitalisations in the Auckland region, and 402 were tested for influenza of which just three (0.7 percent) were positive. The most recent influenza-positive case was detected in early April.

It's down to this year's record number of flu vaccinations and lockdown restrictions and that's had another positive impact.

"Our overall death rate's going to be lower this year than in previous years, we've had lower road traffic accidents through the lockdown period and certainly we've got lower respiratory infections," says Dr Jackson.

But the hunt for COVID cluster cases and the battle against border outbreaks continues. Today's latest surge in returnee cases was all too telling.

"The cases that we're seeing really is an indication of the fact that COVID is growing not slowing around the world," says Minister Megan Woods.

Seven of Tuesday's nine new cases came from India, which this week recorded the world's highest single-day increase of more than 78,761. And Wellington had its first COVID case in a managed isolation facility, a returnee from Los Angeles.

If we're to avoid further lockdowns, testing remains crucial, particularly for those with symptoms.

"Given that there's so little flu around, it means that if people do get coughs and sniffles and so on then they should go and get tested. They need to get that COVID test because it's not going to be influenza causing it," said Dr Jackson.

There's been a huge push to reach 70,000 COVID-19 tests in a week.

Over the past six days 56,563 tests have been carried out, with 13,437 needed to have been carried out today to hit the 70,000 target.