Autumn illnesses including flu up to halved by coronavirus restrictions, says German study

Daniel Wighton
·2-min read
People wearing mandatory face masks in a shopping street in Dortmund, Germany - Martin Meissner /AP
People wearing mandatory face masks in a shopping street in Dortmund, Germany - Martin Meissner /AP

Coronavirus measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing haven’t just helped stop the spread of Covid-19, they’ve also slashed cases of cold weather illnesses by up to 50 per cent, according to new data from Germany. 

Instances of flu, bronchitis and pneumonia have all significantly decreased in north-eastern Germany, which includes Berlin, according to a study by health insurer AOK Nordost.   

From September until mid-November, the number of people taking sick days off work due to the flu was halved compared to previous years.

Absence due to acute bronchitis fell by more than half, the study found, while sick days as a result of pneumonia and gastrointestinal infections dropped by a third.

The authors said this was likely due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions.  

“The corona protective measures including masks, washing hands and keeping your distance did not prevent the second Covid-19 wave,” said the report.  

“The rules, however, have at least severely contained the spread of flu and other infectious diseases in the autumn.”

The authors also speculated that an increase in flu vaccinations may have also contributed to the decline in infections.  

The study, which was released on Sunday, took into account more than 63,000 sick leave requests throughout autumn in the north-eastern German states of Berlin, Brandenberg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The three states are home to just over 7.5 million people. 

That period includes two weeks of Germany’s ‘lockdown light’, which began in November.  

This month saw harsher coronavirus measures introduced nationwide – including closing bars, restaurants and cafes, along with strict curbs on meeting in groups, travelling and leisure activities. 

The authors found a more significant decrease in sick leave in the larger, more rural states than in Berlin.  In Brandenberg, sick days decreased by around 15 percentage points and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania by 12.

They fell by only 8 percentage points in the German capital, which the authors attributed to continuing public transport usage.

“Even under the contact restrictions, more people meet in Berlin than in the greater states - for example in the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and buses,” the report said.

“More contact means more opportunities for infectious diseases to spread.”