After a litany of Tory failures, why we still need a Zero Covid Strategy – Bell Ribeiro-Addy #Covid19UK


“Sometimes supporters of a ZeroCovid strategy are accused of being in favour of permanent lockdown. Not true. The countries that implemented ZeroCovid all had far fewer weeks of lockdown than we have had. And we look on course to have another one.”

Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP

Everyone who cares about public health should welcome the postponement of ending lockdown. Despite the many challenges and hardship it will bring, it is the right thing to do as cases are soaring. But we should be clear that delay is the direct result of whole host of government failures.

Boris Johnson was warned this would be consequence of reopening too early in May, including warnings from SAGE. He was repeatedly warned about lack of controls at the borders.  This is not blocking all trade or all travel but it a scandal there has been no proper and rigorously monitored quarantine process.  In pursuit of a trade deal with Indian Prime Minister Modi, Boris Johnson kept India off the red list and Bangladesh on it, despite the latter having far fewer cases.

We cannot assume that postponing will be enough.  There are problems with any vaccine programme, as brilliantly efficient as the NHS has delivered this one.  There are major rates of infection in the under-30s, including school children.  Schools clearly are not always safe, despite the Prime Minister’s claims. There are huge parts of the population, whether they are vulnerable or due to age who cannot be vaccinated.

A vaccine-only strategy cannot work. If the virus continues to circulate in a section of the population and continues to mutate. We are one of the few countries in the world to be ravaged by both the Alpha and Delta virus strains (Kent and India). 

That is due to government incompetence.  It hasn’t happened elsewhere. And last week the Lancet published research showing that the government-directed and Tony Blair-inspired unscientific change to 12 weeks between vaccines has a detrimental effect.  This big gap, not recommended by the manufacturers or the scientists, means that immunity after 2 jabs wears off quite quickly especially for the elderly.  As Professor Christina Pagel says, this means that the elderly who have been fully jabbed will start needing another jab soon.

A ZeroCovid strategy has been proven to work in other countries, Australia, China, Viet Nam and New Zealand. They have very different geographies, populations and political systems. So, it is possible to replicate elsewhere. What they have in common is their own experience of SARS, and a willingness to learn from it.  If you move quickly, as the WHO said, and lockdown, with effective testing and tracing plus fully supported isolation you can suppress the virus quite quickly. Mostly where this was done, it took between 6 to 12 weeks.

Instead, we are in this seemingly never-ending cycle of lockdowns and partial easings, plus constant postponements of the end of lockdown.  In Auckland they are having rock concerts and in China they are having pool parties, because they did proper lockdowns and got all their systems in place.

We still could. A 4-week delay is time enough to take away the shambolic testing system away from SERCO and hand it to the NHS, along with tracing where local authorities can also help.  We need full pay for everyone told to isolate, to stop under-testing and under-reporting for those who cannot time off. If we do this, plus vaccines, which I am a big supporter of, then we can actually suppress the virus, and stamp on any local outbreaks that do occur.

We also need to sort out the global situation rapidly.  Gordon Brown is right to call it a moral catastrophe to come forward with just a promise of 1 billion doses, when that would cover just 1 in 15 of the world’s population.  What we need is a waiver of patents, to allow global mass production.  But this government is in a union with other rich European countries in blocking patent waivers. Boris Johnson clearly does not mind unity with Europe when it’s uniting against the world’s poor on behalf of Big Pharma. Joe Biden has dropped his opposition to the patent waiver, so it is European countries including this one who are responsible for the blockage.

We cannot be safe in a global pandemic until everyone is safe, so we need to work together.

Sometimes supporters of a ZeroCovid strategy are accused of being in favour of permanent lockdown. Not true.  The countries that implemented ZeroCovid all had far fewer weeks of lockdown than we have had. And we look on course to have another one.

We could use this time wisely, stop easing, sort out test, trace and isolation, introduce proper quarantine measures at the airports, and close the schools as soon as exams are over and not reopen them until it is safe, with all these other measures in place, as we were promised over a year ago.

People say, but hospitalisations are not rising, deaths are not rising.  But they are, and the pace of this resurgence is such that it might not take long for another crisis to hit the NHS and for the death toll to rise rapidly. The government must use this minimum of four weeks wisely, to prevent that.

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