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Britain’s Covid19 Crisis – There is Another Way

“We’ve tried ‘living with the virus’, & 10,000s have died of it. We’re trapped in a cycle of rolling lockdowns. This can’t go on. Fortunately it doesn’t have to. There’s another way.”

By Peter Foster, zerocovid.uk 

None of us need to be told how Covid-19 has devastated our lives and livelihoods since it reached these shores. Zero-Covid is a grassroots campaign to get it out again by eliminating community transmission via an initial lockdown and a radically reformed Test & Trace system, with elimination status protected via travel quarantine until vaccine coverage can rise to a level to protect the entire population. We believe this is the only choice. We’ve tried “living with the virus”, and tens of thousands have died of it. We’re trapped in a cycle of rolling lockdowns. This can’t go on.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to. There’s another way. The UK government have no strategy: we do.

Elimination has been successfully achieved in countries as diverse as Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia. There’s no magic secret to it. If a virus is starved of hosts, its chains of transmission burn out, and it’s no longer present in a community. This is the policy we adopt for a range of serious diseases, from Polio to Rubella to Smallpox. The UK has a Measles’ elimination strategy right now, despite its “R-rate” being many times that of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If we can eliminate a disease as infectious as Measles, why not Covid? 

This is the question that will be answered at our Zoom conference on 16 January, where the architect of New Zealand’s elimination strategy, Professor Michael Baker, will be speaking. He’ll be joined by MPs Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon, Prof. Susan Michie of Independent SAGE, and reflecting our grassroots focus, Hector Wesley of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and Janet Newsham of the HAZARDs campaign. For Zero-Covid recognises that eliminating the virus isn’t a dry academic question to be debated by epidemiologists, but a human question, that cuts to the heart of our society, and the value it places on each individual life. 

Resigned to endemicity, Boris Johnson and his advisors don’t even want to try what Baker did. Patrick Vallance may not be on TV talking about “herd immunity” any more, but Chris Whitty has said the virus will become endemic, likely to cost 7-to-20,000 lives each winter, and declares this a risk we “should” just accept.

He and those like him surrendered to the virus before it reached our shores, and instead of stepping in and leading, the UK government left them to it. But for all their accolades, they’re not infallible, and they don’t speak for science: the BMA backs an elimination strategy, and so do we.

We reject Whitehall fatalism, reject their false choice between health and wealth. Ministers must seek alternatives as New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern did. Ardern said she never even considered fake “herd immunity” by natural infection; the UK government not only gave up trying to contain the virus before they were panicked into the first lockdown, but Boris Johnson’s repeated dithering has led to a second wave that looks set to be worse than the first. 

Vaccines aren’t a quick fix: all adults won’t even be offered a jab until the Autumn. No vaccine has yet been approved for children, leaving our schools at risk. While hopeful they’ll reduce transmission, we don’t know by how much. Vaccines are part of the solution, but only part. We need the current lockdown to be used like Melbourne’s to drive cases low enough that a radically reformed Test & Trace, taken off private companies and put in public sector and local hands, can extinguish the final transmission chains. For it to work, we need proper support for people who must isolate, 100% wage/income cover, and hotel isolation so their families are protected. This can also be used to stop travellers from seeding new community cases, as has been done in Australia, and just off our shores in the island of Guernsey.

Given the devastating impact it has had on our most deprived communities, we believe with all our hearts that Zero-Covid is a social justice issue the labour movement must swing behind. The UK government won’t choose to do the right thing. Its advisors won’t recommend the right thing. It is down to us to bring about a tsunami of political pressure to fill the space where their consciences are silent. Already Aslef and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union have joined us, we have no doubt the first of many. 

We are ordinary people: families desperate to embrace; workers risking their lives because their bosses have refused to make their working conditions safe. We are you, and we hope that the labour movement will join us in ending this purgatory and again letting us live. Through the strength of our common endeavour we can win this. Ardern and Baker mobilised a team of five million. Let’s see what we can do with over sixty million.

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