B117, N501Y, P1 - these are the labels for new variants of the COVID-19 virus that have led to new waves of infection in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil and are now spreading around the world. Studies suggest that these variants could be substantially more infectious and possibly more lethal than the early COVID-Sars-2 strains. Most worrying, the mutations that characterize these variants may reduce the effectiveness of the long awaited vaccines leading to new surges in cases, more deaths, and forcing vaccination efforts to achieve levels of mass inoculation that are a public health nightmare. In light of the ongoing threat of COVID-19, some infectious disease experts are pushing for what is being called a “Zero Covid” strategy to bring the pandemic to an end. They say that countries like Australia and New Zealand have proven it is possible to all but eliminate the virus and the rest of the world needs to follow their example. They argue that strict, comprehensive, and long-lasting lockdowns that bring COVID cases close to zero is the best way to deal with the original strains of the virus and head off the even greater threat posed by the new variants. Critics of an elimination strategy say that the kind of lockdowns it envisions are based on an irrational, overly fearful reaction to a pathogen that is no riskier than influenza for the vast majority of the population. They say that lockdowns are causing long term harms that far outweigh the public health impact of COVID-19. Countries which have tried to eliminate the virus have sacrificed the well being of their societies and economies for the epidemiological pipedream of zero Covid. The right approach is one based on learning how to live with COVID and managing the threats it poses to the elderly and vulnerable.
Arguing for the motion is Stephen Duckett, the Health Program Director at the Grattan Institute in Melbourne Australia and the co-author of the “Australia should go for zero COVID-19 cases” report.
Arguing against the motion is Simon Thornley, an epidemiologist at the University of Auckland and a member of New Zealand’s COVID Plan B, a multidisciplinary group of experts pushing for a modified response to the pandemic.
Sources: KHOU-11, BBC, CBC, Leading Britain’s Conversation, CovidPlanB Webinar, Sky News, Stuff, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 9 News Australia
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