Photo/Illutration The Asahi Shimbun

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the globe, the seasonal flu barely moved the needle this year, new national hospital data shows.

Flu season is expected to end with the number of influenza patients falling below one-1,000th of the average for the past three years--practically vanishing from the radar.

“Influenza was completely overwhelmed by its rival, the novel coronavirus, this year,” said Tetsuo Nakayama, a project professor at Kitasato University and specialist in clinical virology.

Initially, some experts anticipated a simultaneous outbreak of the novel coronavirus and seasonal influenza during the winter season. The data suggests that did not occur.

Hospitals across Japan each treated an average of 0.01 influenza patients between December last year and early March, according to data compiled by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases from reports of some 5,000 medical institutions.

The figure is a far cry from 1, the benchmark for the start of a flu outbreak.

The average was only 0.02 flu patients between Feb. 1 and 7, the highest figure this past winter.

Nakayama suggested that could be the work of viral interference, a phenomenon where people infected with a virus become less likely to contract other viruses.

Both the novel coronavirus and flu usually enter the human body through the nose and throat.

Nakayama said that few people infected with influenza have likely entered Japan, due to a low number of flu patients worldwide and the government’s strict entry restrictions on travelers from abroad.