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Windsor Regional Hospital officials say the substantive reduction in influenza cases across the country could be a possible positive side effect of COVID-19 preventative measures.

Just 56 influenza cases have been reported in Canada so far this flu season, according to Health Canada.

The hospital board heard Thursday evening that typically at this time during flu season, more than 21,000 cases are reported nationally.

“When people at the beginning of the pandemic said 'this is just another flu' it shows it's clearly not another flu," says WRH chief of staff Dr. Wassim Saad.

Saad notes Australia's flu season arrives earlier in the year and was the first country to report a drastic drop in cases.

Saad says there hasn't been a reduction in influenza testing. He credits physical distancing, PPE and proper hand hygiene to the case count reduction, adding future influenza outbreaks could be mitigated with the same actions.

“It is very clear that the public health measures that have been put in place to stem the tide of COVID is much more effective at preventing influenza transmission,” says Saad.

At the same time, the threat of a “third wave”, thanks to new COVID-19 variants emerging around the world, is not being ruled out.

“The concern is these variations will become the dominated strain in March in Ontario, and that’s why there’s a lot of hesitancy, because we’re very comfortable or happy with the fact that our cases are going down, looks like community transmission is going down,” says WRH president and CEO David Musyj.

Musyj says new emerging variants make him nervous about what lies ahead.

“The concern is the presence of these variants and the impact, how quickly they can spread, how quickly the tide can turn.”

Musyj says the hospital is trying to cautiously increase day and inpatient surgeries, knowing things can change quickly.

“We have to be able to react very fast, so it’s quite a balancing act right now.”

Musyj says an indicator of a potential third wave will be if the number of people getting testing starts to climb back up.

“If we start seeing that number creep up to 300-350-400, that’s going to be some alarms and bells and whistles to us that our community is coming back to get swabbed because they’re symptomatic, and that is going to be very, very concerning.”