The World Health Organisation has issued a fresh warning ahead of Australia’s impending flu season, urging people to get vaccinated as doctors report a drastic fall in flu shot demand.
In Australia, August is the typical peak for flu which runs through the cooler months from April to October, with as many as 3000 people a year dying from the respiratory illness.
Influenza on average also causes 18,000 hospitalisations and 300,000 GP consultations, according to the Influenza Specialist Group, which could cause mayhem to the heath system if coronavirus was also on the loose.
The World Health Organisation on Tuesday (Australian time) warned that southern hemisphere countries like Australia could face the dual battle of COVID-19 and flu spreading.
WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was imperative that people keep up their vaccination schedules.
“With the start of the southern hemisphere flu season, it’s vital that everyone gets their seasonal flu vaccine,” he told a media briefing.
Queensland has reported a dramatic plunge in demand for flu vaccinations, leading doctors to fear a horror season.
Australian Medical Association Queensland branch president Dr Dilip Dhupelia said the state could begin to emerge from the coronavirus crisis, only to be plunged into a flu crisis unless people get their shots.
The warnings are heightened by concern that Latin America and Africa could become the next epicentres of COVID-19 as global infections passed three million (with 6714 in Australia).
Unlike Australia and New Zealand which are successfully flattening the curve – with Australia recording eight new cases in 24 hours – poorer southern nations are experiencing increasing infections and deaths while lacking testing and resources.
The Australian death toll has risen to 84 with the passing of another elderly resident at Sydney’s Newmarch House which has lost seven residents to coronavirus.
WHO’s head of emergencies Mike Ryan said Australia and other southern hemisphere countries would need support to manage both seasonal influenza and coronavirus.
Surf’s up as infections go down
As Australia starts to bank some of the gains of the coronavirus lockdown, swimmers and surfers will be permitted back in the water at at Sydney’s famous Bondi beach.
Bondi beach itself will remain closed given the local area has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Australia.
Waverley Council mayor Paula Masselos says the waters at Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama beaches will reopen on Tuesday morning “for the sole purpose of exercising”.
People will be able to swim or surf at Bondi and Bronte and surf only at Tamarama between 7am and 5pm on weekdays and via designated entry and exit points.
“Our beaches remain closed to all land-based activities including social gatherings, sunbaking, walking and jogging,” Ms Masselos said.
“There will be no relaxing or gathering around on the sand. The sand remains strictly off-limits other than for access to the water for exercising.
“Waverley is still a hot spot and presently has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Australia.”
The mayor said the “swim and go” and “surf and go” measures were strictly for Waverley residents exercising locally and people shouldn’t drive to the beaches from further afield.
Neighbouring Randwick City Council reopened its beaches – including Clovelly, Coogee and Maroubra – a week ago but was forced to close them again on Friday when crowds descended on the sand and people couldn’t follow safe social distancing practices.
The patrolled beaches were reopened on Saturday but only from 6am to 9am until Monday.
In the Top End, Northern Territory businesses could reopen in weeks with the Labor government increasingly confident the Territory could soon be technically coronavirus free, with only five of its 28 cases yet to recover.
Australia’s borders won’t reopen for at least three to four months, the federal government says, adding that the national cabinet is seeking 20 or fewer cases per day to represent “the significant suppression” point before it will look at re-opening.
Premiers ride wave of approval
Nearly all state premiers are enjoying high approval ratings as voters back their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Newspoll.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan enjoyed the highest net approval rating of 83 per cent, with 94 per cent saying he was handling COVID-19 well, according to the poll conducted for the Australian.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein’s net approval rating was 73 per cent and 89 per cent supported his coronavirus response.
Next in line was Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews with a net approval rating of 58 per cent followed by South Australian Premier Steven Marshall (47) and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (46).
The Victorian premier’s coronavirus response was backed by 85 per cent, compared with 82 per cent support for Mr Marshall and 77 per cent who said Ms Berejiklian was handling the crisis well.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk lagged with a net approval rating of 16 per cent, though 72 per cent thought she handled the coronavirus well.
Help for struggling zoos
Zoos and aquariums across the country will get almost $100 million in federal funding to help them through the COVID-19 crisis.
The $94.6 million will be used to pay for the cost of caring for animals and keep the operations afloat until travel and other coronavirus restrictions are eased.
Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham says zoos and aquariums have seen their revenue streams dry up during the crisis.
“It’s absolutely crucial our iconic zoos and aquariums can still operate on the other side and play a major role in helping our tourism industry to recover from this,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
Australia’s zoos and aquariums attract more than 20 million visitors a year.
Centrelink payments kick in
The federal government’s virus payments started on Monday along with the income support and coronavirus supplement.
The first phase to boost cash flow for employers arrives Tuesday while increased transfer payments from reduced deeming rates follows on May 1.
The initial JobKeeper payments will finally flow through to employers in the first week of May.