Many other countries have adopted the Zero Covid approach. Britain could too.
If we’d done this in the spring, by now we’d be living without the virus – visiting family and friends, travelling without fear, drinking and eating out, going to live events, just like people in New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and China.
It means eliminating the spread of infection between people in the UK and putting in place measures to prevent or quickly staunch any further imported cases. Today that means four key steps:
We will organise a series of events, media activity and safe public protests in support of a virus elimination strategy.
Living with repeated on-off lockdowns, the collapse of hospitality, entertainment and transport, millions living in unemployment, and of course scores of thousands not living at all, taken before their time. And there are the many long-term impacts on both physical and mental health arising from a continuously festering pandemic.
It means living with no end in sight until effective vaccines are approved and rolled-out – whenever that may or may not be.
The Government’s latest four-week lockdown is too little, too late. The experts at Independent SAGE predict that with universities and schools still open, it would take far more than one month to reduce daily new cases to a manageable level, costing extra lives.
Stronger measures are urgently needed to reverse the rapid rise in infections. A full lockdown would quickly reduce community transmission close to zero. This would grant desperately needed time to – at last – replace the discredited private test and trace system with one based locally: on council, NHS and public health structures, recruiting contact tracers locally. This infrastructure will be needed even after Covid, because pandemics are becoming more frequent, driven by wanton destruction of our ecosystems.
What about individual freedoms? Suppressing the pandemic means empowering communities and individuals to act safely, look after each other and regain our freedom faster. Zero Covid is not about repressing the people and forcing us to live forever under strict controls. Quite the opposite. The pandemic will be over far sooner with a Zero Covid Strategy than with the government’s drawn-out, on-off approach.
Instead of crude police enforcement – which disproportionately targets black and Asian people, young people, and those in precarious work, on benefits and in overcrowded housing – there should be collective discipline and social solidarity, with financial support, clear messages and information, free masks and sanitiser and community groups funded by councils to support the at-risk, the sick and the lonely.
Where key workers can’t avoid going to work despite the virus, the government should coordinate investment to make workplaces safe, with extra space, equipment, ventilation and staff. Workers and their trade unions should be fully involved in ensuring safe working conditions in line with the Covid-19 Safe Workplace Charter. Only workplaces with Covid Safe certification should be allowed to open.
All workplaces that are not absolutely essential should close during the lockdown. The state must fully compensate workers, including the self-employed, for loss of earnings due to measures taken to suppress the pandemic.
Wherever workers are off sick, isolating, shielding, not working due to caring responsibilities, can’t work safely, or lose work due to the pandemic or action to control it, the government should guarantee 100 percent of their wages. Where workers are made redundant, benefits should be increased and made available immediately. And no one should be homeless during this pandemic: the ban on evictions must be extended indefinitely.
Extra resources are needed for disabled people, black people, Asians, other minorities and people in poverty.
With state schools closed, families need to be given all the resources enjoyed by better-off families whose kids attend private schools: laptops, cameras and the very best distance learning tools.
During lockdown, international travel should be reduced to an absolute minimum. Once we have reduced infection levels that can be managed by the new FTTIS system, all arrivals to the UK should be screened for the virus and quarantined if necessary. If this process is made clear before people embark on international travel, they will be able to decide for themselves if they still want to go ahead with their plans.