The campaign to beat the pandemic

“Why not just wait for everyone to be vaccinated?”

Vaccines are a miracle of science but they aren’t a quick fix.

It could be autumn until we’ve vaccinated the 70 to 80 percent of the population thought to be necessary for what’s called herd immunity (when enough people are immune to stop the virus circulating). And although early evidence is hopeful, we don’t yet know their full effect in reducing transmission.The vaccines aren’t yet licensed for children, and until they are — perhaps well into 2022 — schools will remain vulnerable to outbreaks. No vaccine is 100 percent effective of course and mutations may affect that.

In the meantime, if we leave the virus circulating, we must endure thousands more deaths, an untold number of survivors suffering from long-Covid, rolling lockdowns and draconian restrictions on social contact. Not only are the suppression measures cruel, but we must live under the constant threat of them failing and the virus erupting into exponential growth, as already happened in March and September. Even for those lucky enough to escape infection, this isn’t living, it’s existing.

There’s another way. Elimination is it.

“How do you eliminate a virus?”

Eliminating a disease might seem fantastical, but it’s mainstream public health, and has been successfully done here multiple times for many different viruses, from Polio to Measles to Smallpox. How? By removing fuel from the fire: if you deny wood to a fire, it stops burning; if a virus is starved of hosts, it stops spreading.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, can be rooted out from our communities if, after measures such as lockdowns and mass testing have driven numbers low enough, skilled contact tracers can, like detectives, find the last people carrying the virus and, crucially, we support their isolation until they feel better.

If the vaccines do block or reduce transmission, they can speed elimination by what’s called ring vaccination (immunising contacts or the population of whole areas around positive cases).

“Don’t you want to lock us down forever?”

No. We want to set you free. Zero-Covid is liberty and safety rolled into one. We’ve been trapped in a cycle of rolling lockdowns since March 2020 while thousands party the night away in Auckland, Wuhan and Perth. Elimination is freedom: living with the virus makes Covid your jailer

“It’s too late: the virus is endemic.”

So were Polio, Measles and Smallpox. Where’s Smallpox now?

Being new, the virus isn’t yet in what epidemiologists call “endemic equilibrium”, where it circulates constantly at low levels. Even if it were, endemic doesn’t mean forever. We’ve reversed endemicity before, and we can do it again.

“SAGE say elimination’s impossible and the virus is here forever.”

They’re wrong.

Not every member of SAGE agrees, and regardless, they’re not infallible. When the virus first appeared, SAGE advised against stopping flights and voted unanimously that we shouldn’t suppress the virus, claiming that, in Wuhan, it was almost certain to spring back when lockdown was released.

Wuhan instead eliminated the virus, and now has packed nightclubs while we’re locked down a year later. If SAGE were wrong then, why are they right now?

“But cases are too high to eliminate!”

In summer 2020, we had similar case numbers to Melbourne, Australia, but there our paths diverged: Victoria pursued Zero Covid, ended community transmission, and is now opening up. It’s not too late.

“What about the economy?”

Health is wealth. You get both, or lose both: playing one off against the other is a false choice. Zero-Covid lets us reopen fully in safety, which is why trade unions are joining our campaign, and why we campaign for workplace safety.

Zero-Covid is also smart business. In New Zealand, the epidemiologist Michael Baker credits an alliance between scientists and the business community with creating pressure for elimination and a government leadership that once convinced devoted themselves to a Zero-Covid strategy.

Zero-Covid is the only way to save the economy.

“Don’t you want to ban travel forever?”

No. Zero Covid isn’t international isolation. Just the opposite, ending community transmission offers a path to reopening travel.

Fearing new strains, the government has now closed all air bridges. Only links between countries committed to Zero-Covid can last. If we end community transmission, then, as Australia is doing with New Zealand, we can form travel bubbles with other Covid-free jurisdictions; any suspension due to an outbreak would be short.

More and more countries are choosing to eliminate this terrible disease and forge links. The virus is the past: the only question is, how quickly do we want to join the future?

Zero Covid isn’t restrictions and isolation; it’s how to get back our lives and livelihoods. Join us, and together, we’ll be free of the virus, free to lockdowns, and free to live fully again.

“The UK is an integrated economy but with devolution – how can we get all the governments on board?”

Health, education and transport are devolved responsibilities in the UK, so we need not only to convince the UK government of Zero-Covid, but the three devolved administrations too. All four governments need to work effectively together and coordinate, as they did in the first lockdown in March 2020.

The Scottish and Welsh governments have shown themselves more sympathetic to Zero-Covid and with more effective messaging, but in practice they struggle to act completely independently of Westminster especially as the UK government holds most of the purse strings. This also means we have had significant divergences of rules about lockdown and travel restrictions between the four administrations, causing confusion and less effectiveness.

The main responsibility for this lack of coordination rests with the UK government, but the devolved administrations could do more by adopting and pressing the UK government also to support a Zero-Covid strategy.

In Ireland, with a highly permeable 300 mile long border between the UK and Republic of Ireland states, there is increasing pressure for an all-Ireland Zero-Covid strategy to be agreed between the three governments (Northern Ireland Executive, Republic of Ireland government, UK government).

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