pile of surgical face masks
(Image: Adobe)

One of the most fascinating aspects of the pandemic is the unexpected side effects. Not all of them are bad.

The perturbations let us glimpse the possibilities of a new way of living and hint at how we might approach the future. The pertinent example in many people’s lives is the potential to work from home.

But the example I’d like to draw attention to is the crushing victory we’ve won over flu and pneumonia deaths in 2020. For years we’ve accepted hundreds of deaths each week in winter — a burden far higher than the road toll we expend so much effort to suppress.

But with a bit of handwashing, social distancing and hygiene practices we’ve managed to avert hundreds of deaths each week in winter 2020, as the above chart shows. In the depths of winter, that’s a fall of a third to a half. I’ve included cancer deaths as a frame of reference. They are up by 3% across the year to August. (Net deaths in Australia are down this year, despite COVID-19!)

The pandemic has reminded us of the high value we place on preservation of human life. I’d like to imagine policymakers can be convinced by epidemiologists to treat seasonal flu with the seriousness it deserves from now on.

Saving hundreds of deaths among the elderly and immuno-compromised every week in winter is a goal worth pursuing.