No, the flu cases in 2020-21 were not recorded as COVID-19

By: Vivek J
May 16 2023

Share Article: facebook logo twitter logo linkedin logo
No, the flu cases in 2020-21 were not recorded as COVID-19


The Verdict False

Influenza and coronavirus are two separate viruses. Pandemic measures introduced due to COVID-19 resulted in reduced flu cases during 2020-21.

Claim ID 68ad0a9e


An image shared on Facebook showed the year-wise flu cases registered in the U.S. For the year 2020-21, the flu data is not available as this was when COVID-19 was at its peak. The image in the Facebook post notes that while "didn'tvery few influenza cases were registered, COVID-19 cases with numbers similar to that of flu cases from previous years were seen in the country. The post was shared with the claim that this implies there was no COVID-19 pandemic but that influenza cases were labeled as COVID-19 to create a pandemic that didn’t exist. 

Similar claims were made in other countries like the U.K. One of the MPs from Leicestershire, Andrew Bridgen, who is vocal against the pandemic and the vaccination drive, shared U.K. influenza statistics and questioned the very low flu cases recorded in 2020-21. His shared image also noted, "Unprecedented that influenza disappeared at the same time we had the COVID-19 pandemic. Its never happened before!” However, the implications of these claims are incorrect and not based on clinical evidence. 

In Fact

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its flu summary for 2020-21, noted that: “Flu activity was unusually low throughout the 2020-2021 flu season both in the United States and globally, despite high levels of testing.” The summary also noted that the test positivity rate for influenza was just 0.2 percent compared to the previous three years, where the positivity rate was between 26 and 30 percent. It further highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic measures like mask mandates, staying at home, reduced travel, and closed schools may all have contributed to significantly reducing the flu cases. 

The CDC influenza summary also noted that the influenza vaccines may also have contributed to the reduced number of cases and that a record 193 million doses of the influenza vaccines were distributed in the U.S. during the 2020-21 flu season. Out of the flu samples tested in the U.S., most of the samples were influenza A and B from the H3N2 and Victoria lineage, respectively. There were relatively few cases of novel variants in humans during this season. A novel virus is a new variant of a virus that has not been previously detected in humans. 

An article by Vox, dated February 11, 2021, quoted Helen Chu, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Washington who studies the flu, as saying that “it is the lack of travel, the school closures, and the distancing and masking that are making the biggest difference” and noted that it was hard to determine what measures contributed to the very low number of flu cases. 

Eili Klein, an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins, was quoted in one of their articles as saying, “Though caused by a different virus from the one that causes COVID-19, the flu is also a respiratory viral disease, so everything we are doing to slow transmission of COVID-19 should also reduce transmission of flu.”

A U.S. National Library of Medicine publication also concluded that “the COVID-19 pandemic and related mitigation strategies have exerted a strong impact on the circulation of influenza, RSV, and other respiratory viruses.” Therefore, it is clear that the presence of the coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to combat the pandemic may have significantly contributed to reducing the occurrence of the flu virus in 2020-21. 

The influenza virus and the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) are both respiratory viruses but have distinct characteristics. Claims of flu cases being labeled as COVID-19 for the 2020-21 flu season are unfounded and not clinically proven. According to the latest statistics by the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 766 million cases of COVID-19 were reported, and over 6.9 million people lost their lives to the pandemic. 

The Verdict

The Facebook post claiming to show the actual cause of low influenza cases in 2020-21 does not contain any supporting evidence. Experts believe that the strong presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures implemented to combat the pandemic could have prevented the flu virus from transmitting as in other years. Therefore, we have marked this claim as false.

Would you like to submit a claim to fact-check or contact our editorial team?

Global Fact-Checks Completed

We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before