Impact of Public Health Interventions on Seasonal Influenza Activity During the COVID-19 Outbreak in Korea

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Jul 1;73(1):e132-e140. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa672.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was introduced in Korea early with a large outbreak in mid-February. We reviewed the public health interventions used during the COVID-19 outbreak and describe the impact on seasonal influenza activity in Korea.

Methods: National response strategies, public health interventions and daily COVID-19-confirmed cases in Korea were reviewed during the pandemic. National influenza surveillance data were compared between 7 sequential seasons. Characteristics of each season, including rate of influenza-like illness (ILI), duration of epidemic, date of termination of epidemic, distribution of influenza virus strain, and hospitalization, were analyzed.

Results: After various public health interventions including enforced public education on hand hygiene, cough etiquette, staying at home with respiratory symptoms, universal mask use in public places, refrain from nonessential social activities, and school closures the duration of the influenza epidemic in 2019/2020 decreased by 6-12 weeks and the influenza activity peak rated 49.8 ILIs/1000 visits compared to 71.9-86.2 ILIs/1000 visits in previous seasons. During the period of enforced social distancing from weeks 9-17 of 2020, influenza hospitalization cases were 11.9-26.9-fold lower compared with previous seasons. During the 2019/2020 season, influenza B accounted for only 4%, in contrast to previous seasons in which influenza B accounted for 26.6-54.9% of all cases.

Conclusions: Efforts to activate a high-level national response not only led to a decrease in COVID-19 but also a substantial decrease in seasonal influenza activity. Interventions applied to control COVID-19 may serve as useful strategies for prevention and control of influenza in upcoming seasons.

Keywords: COVID-19; influenza; severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human* / epidemiology
  • Public Health
  • Republic of Korea
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Seasons