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Surge in NSW flu cases sparks concern over hospital capacity with Covid numbers high

By Tamsin Rose
A woman receives a free flu vaccination, next to a banner saying Immunisation Coalition
NSW Health is particularly concerned about flu outbreaks in high school boarding houses which have contributed to doubling case numbers. Photograph: Con Chronis/AAP

Surging cases of the flu are putting extra demand on emergency departments around New South Wales, with major outbreaks in boarding houses contributing to a doubling in cases in a week.

According to NSW Health, 2,000 flu cases were reported in the week to 7 May – up from 1,024 the week before.

The state’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said there has also been about 60 people hospitalised with flu-like illnesses over the same period, adding further strain to an already struggling system.

She urged all people who could to get their flu vaccination, including students in boarding schools who were particularly vulnerable, to do so.

“As with Covid-19, boarding schools are a high-risk setting for flu transmission,” she said.

“We’re strongly encouraging all students and staff in boarding schools to get their flu vaccine. Boarders with flu should be isolated from others until their symptoms resolve.”

Schools with three or more boarders with the flu were told to contact their local public health unit for advice.

Health experts have been warning that this flu season would probably be worse than previous pandemic years after historically low transmission rates of influenza last year, largely attributed to border closures and lockdowns.

Immunisation Coalition chief executive, Kim Sampson, said it has not been a good start to the flu season because “people have kind of stopped caring”.

“[People are] rolling their eyes and don’t really want to know about it,” he said.

“There is considerable concern that we’re going to see this escalation in cases progress through the coming months.

“As it gets colder, wetter and people stay indoors for longer periods, then we really do expect it to increase.

Key among Sampson’s concerns was the chance of people getting Covid and the flu at the same time, and creeping “vaccine fatigue” leading to lower than usual take-up of the jab.

“If we start to see an increase of co-infection, we don’t know what impact that’s going to have on the health system,” he said.

NSW’s seniors minister, Mark Coure, said residents 65 and over were eligible for a free flu shot at pharmacies and GPs.

He said it was important every year and “especially important this year” given the stubbornly high number of Covid cases in the community still.

“We have come a long way and have a strong Covid-19 vaccination rate, but it is important to take any additional steps we can to protect ourselves and others as we head into the winter months,” Coure said.

“The flu shot and Covid-19 booster can be given at the same time, so if you are yet to get either, make sure to book in today.”

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