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August 18, 2020 at 5:36 AM EDT

Flu was all but eliminated in South Africa this year, thanks to coronavirus

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The pandemic has made a lot of bad things worse, but South Africa’s near-total lack of a flu season this year stands out as a rare positive effect.

The country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has three laboratories that would normally record more than 1,000 cases of flu between April and August, winter in the Southern Hemisphere. As the 2020 season ends, they have recorded just one.

“It is a totally unprecedented event to not see flu,” said Cheryl Cohen, who leads the NICD’s respiratory disease team. While she and other experts in South Africa said some people were certainly staying home and not reporting mild sicknesses, they all agreed that South Africa basically skipped its flu season — and that the coronavirus is to thank.

Bearak reported from Nairobi.

By Lesley Wroughton and Max Bearak

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