On March 23rd, we held an international event to mark the anniversary of the first UK lockdown in 2020, with speakers from a number of countries sharing their insights on the successes and failures of suppressing the virus.
March 23rd is the anniversary of our first UK lockdown in 2020. Despite the Covid-19 death toll approaching 130,000, the Prime Minister refuses to admit that things could have been different.
Scientists, including SAGE experts, expect cases to rise once more after the end of lockdown. The alternative remains a Zero Covid strategy. Other countries have suppressed the virus. Their lockdowns lasted weeks, not on/off for a year as in this country. We can still suppress the virus and calls for a #ZeroCovid strategy continue to grow.
Join us for an international event, where speakers from a number of countries will share their insights on the successes and failures of suppressing the virus.
- Diane Abbott MP
- Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam
- Professor Walter Ricciardia
- Professor Aoife McLysaght
- Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP
The event takes place on Tuesday 23 March at 6:30pm GMT.
Register for free on Eventbrite.
What is ZeroCovid?
It is the policy aimed at eliminating the enormous number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths arising from Covid-19 in order to suppress the virus and move on, rather than face repeated cycles of infection and lockdown.
It means getting these down to extremely low numbers through stringent lockdown, and keeping them there with a fully effective test and trace system. Where people are asked to self-isolate, they should be provided with all the necessary financial and other support they need.
Is ZeroCovid achievable?
Yes, a number of countries have achieved it.
But aren’t they mainly low-population islands?
Australia and New Zealand have both achieved it, that’s true. But so have China, Viet Nam, Thailand and others, none of whom are low-population countries or islands.
Won’t ZeroCovid damage the economy, leading to job losses?
No. ZeroCovid is based on the strict lockdown of all non-essential work, plus proper testing, tracing and financially supported isolation. If all of those are implemented, then the shutdown last weeks. We have been lurching from lockdown to easing for almost a year, with huge loss of jobs and business failures. Other countries implementing ZeroCovid are well into economic recovery.
What about the policy impact on workers?
Only non-essential workers should be kept at homes. Clearly, many transport, telecoms, post workers are essential, along with everyone in key manufacturing sectors, such as food, medicines and pharmaceuticals, as well their distribution and retail industries. Everyone else should receive full pay for the weeks they are in lockdown.
Is it affordable?
The government has already spent well over £300 billion on bail-outs. It will spend more as the effects of the virus drag on. It is cheaper to have an effective lockdown and Zero Covid policy. Full furlough support, on 100% rather than 80% is a tiny marginal cost.
What about the vaccines?
Vaccines are a great tool, if administered properly. But they are not a magic bullet. Vaccinated people can still contract the virus and transmit it. Vaccines themselves cannot allow a return to the status quo before the pandemic. We need to eliminate the virus, as other countries have successfully done.
THE pace of the roll-out of the vaccination programme in this country is impressive.
It shows how the existing NHS infrastructure is efficient and effective.
But ministers and the government-supporting media go too far when they suggest that a vaccination is all that is required. That is incorrect.
Worse, there is a real risk that this PR around the vaccines provides a false sense of security, along with the risk that all the previous errors around lockdowns will be repeated.
As Independent Sage says, “Vaccines are not a silver bullet.”
The overwhelming majority of people who have received a vaccine dose report how speedy and efficient the process was.
The obvious contrast here is with the shambolic test, trace and isolate programme.
Ministers try to insist it is “NHS test and trace” but that is simply untrue.
We know that billions of pounds have been directed away from the NHS (which had always planned for a response to a pandemic) towards private-sector firms such as Serco, Deloitte and many others.
Their shambolic operation is a disgrace, with failures at every level characterising the whole system.
It is right to celebrate the achievement of the NHS in the administering of vaccines (although even here the government cannot resist an attack on GPs for not working seven days a week, and setting themselves up for potential burnout).
At the time of writing almost 10.5 million people have received a single jab.
But only half a million people have received the authorised two doses, and it is not clear whether these have all taken place within the licensed three weeks.
This single-dose strategy is almost unique to this government. It is opposed by the manufacturers, the British Medical Association and the World Health Organisation.
It is clearly a risk. Because there is no evidence based on trials which lengthen the time between doses to 12 weeks, we cannot know if this is a reckless and counter-productive approach, or whether the outcome will be a benign one.
For example, some scientists have suggested that the delay could allow the greater mutation of the virus, including the risk of vaccine resistance.
But because this is an experiment on the population, we will only find out as the evidence of the real world accumulates.
Under these circumstances it is undeniably reckless for the government to talk of easing restrictions.
Yet it seems clear that ministers have set their sights on schools reopening on March 8.
There should never be dates set for a policy response to a pandemic, whose spread accelerates or decelerates according to changes in conditions in society and is not ruled by the calendar.
Instead, there should be precise targets about new cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
In particular, these should be related to an objective assessment of the capacity of the NHS to cope with new cases as well as resume its ordinary work, and an assessment of the test, trace and isolate system to ensure that new case numbers are at a low enough level which can be easily suppressed.
That alone would require a complete transformation of the current system, and its replacement with an integrated NHS and local authority system and the removal of the useless private-sector companies that have received so much wasted public money.
In addition, proper financial support should be provided if we are demanding that people self-isolate, with guaranteed incomes based on the living wage.
Yet if the government has its way, schools will reopen in England on March 8 as a prelude to a complete easing of restrictions.
At the current impressive rate of vaccination that could mean another 10 million people could have received their first dose, for a total of well over 20 million.
But this would still be less than one-third of the population that had received just one jab.
That cannot possibly be the basis for yet another premature reopening of schools and workplaces.
We should also be clear why there is this rush to reopen schools.
As former Tory chief whip Mark Harper makes clear, the party that trebled tuition fees, abolished the education maintenance allowance and is still fighting against free school meals is not primarily concerned with the education or wellbeing of our youth.
It is the economic consequences of keeping schools closed that exercises the Tory back-bench Covid Research Group and others.
It is also implied that vaccines will stop infection and transmission. They are not designed to do that, and the manufacturers make no such claims.
This means that those receiving vaccines can still become infected and transmit the virus, even with the recommended two doses.
There are serious consequences from allowing the virus to circulate, even if some of the most vulnerable groups are partly protected.
More mutations become a risk, as does serious infection not leading to death, including long Covid.
Earlier this week there were two disturbing reports. One showed that elderly black and Asian people are only half as likely to have received a vaccine.
Another showed around 100 children a week are being hospitalised with a post-Covid condition, most of them black and Asian youngsters.
Almost no-one is being admitted to hospital currently unless their condition is very serious.
These are just two aspects of the very real human cost of the virus, beyond the statistics of cases and deaths.
It is reckless beyond belief to plan for easing restrictions under these circumstances.
A strategy to eliminate the virus is what is required, a zero-Covid strategy, and vaccines can be a useful tool in that.
But they cannot be an alternative. Elimination has occurred in many countries, and none did so with the aid of vaccine.
A strict lockdown of all non-essential work is needed to suppress the virus to minutely low levels, and a fully functioning test, trace and supported isolation system remains vitally necessary.
The risk is that the government, believing its own PR and bowing to the mistaken lobbying for business reopening, will again prematurely remove restrictions.
If that happens, a fourth wave of the virus is a real risk. A zero-Covid approach is needed to prevent that.
To: Keir Starmer (Labour Leader) and all members of the NEC
This CLP/Branch notes that:
- the Tory government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has already led to more than 100,000 deaths – one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world – plus many suffering with virus-related long term health problems;
- this has resulted in the UK experiencing the deepest economic recession for any major economy;
- countries that have adopted a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy – such as New Zealand, Vietnam, Australia and China – have the lowest death tolls and suffered the least economic contractions due to the pandemic.
We believe that:
- the Tories’ approach which allows the virus to spread (‘herd immunity’/’living with the virus’) is responsible for this disaster – the evidence indicates it is not possible to live safely with this virus;
- Britain urgently needs to adopt a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy, to stop the situation deteriorating even further and more deadly mutations arising;
- such a strategy requires a serious lockdown – not the partial lockdowns introduced by the Tories. All non-essential workplaces, nurseries, schools, colleges and universities need to be closed, the test, track, trace and isolate system should be completely overhauled so that it works, full economic support provided to everyone affected and border controls/quarantine measures need to be introduced that are capable of halting the spread of new cases arriving from abroad;
- the lockdown should only be lifted when the level of new infections has been suppressed to the point where the virus can be eliminated – any earlier will simply result in the virus spreading again, many more dying and further economic damage;
- vaccinations play a part in suppressing the virus, but are not sufficient on their own to eliminate it;
- suppressing the virus is a necessary precondition for economic recovery.
We call on our Party Leader to campaign for such a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy and to stop supporting the Tory government’s disastrous policies on this pandemic.
Email addresses for Keir Starmer and NEC members can be found here:-
For Further information
Independent Sage: https://www.independentsage.org
Zero Covid Coalition: https://zerocovidnow.org
NB. This article first appeared in the Morning Star.
LABOUR’S Diane Abbott and the Morning Star call today for all forces striving for a Zero-Covid strategy to suppress the virus to build a united campaign to change government policy.
“Zero Covid” — a policy aimed at eliminating rather than managing coronavirus — has had great success in driving down infections to negligible levels in countries including New Zealand, China and Vietnam, saving hundreds of thousands of lives and allowing ordinary economic and social life to resume.
Britain entered its third national lockdown this week as new cases continue to soar, with well over 50,000 new infections reported yesterday and 1,162 deaths — bringing the total to over 77,000 deaths, compared with under 5,000 in China, 35 in Vietnam and just 25 in New Zealand.
“Recent history has shown that there can be no return to any semblance of normal existence until the virus is suppressed,” Ms Abbott and Morning Star editor Ben Chacko write in today’s paper.
“Wherever governments, including this government, have tried to do that without effectively eliminating the virus, there has been a renewed upsurge in cases.”
Groups that have previously backed a Zero-Covid approach, which has involved combining lockdowns with proper financial support and effective test, trace and isolate systems, include the Independent Sage group of scientists, the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, the People’s Assembly, Stand Up to Racism and the Zero Covid campaign.
But building a new Zero-Covid coalition would help “amplify their work, bring the maximum number of forces together and encourage greater collaboration between them,” Ms Abbott and Mr Chacko say, announcing an online launch meeting on Sunday January 24.
Richard Brenner, a founder of the Zero Covid campaign, said: “It’s never been more important to rally broad forces from the labour movement and the medical and scientific professions to force a change of strategy.
“We founded Zero Covid last year to fill a serious campaigning gap and have been struck by the speed with which we’ve gained support. Our online conference on January 16 and the Morning Star event on January 24 will be vital steps in building a movement that can save thousands and thousands of lives.”
Labour MP Richard Burgon said: “Our government’s approach of striking a so-called ‘balance’ between the economy and saving lives has been a disaster and caused huge damage on both fronts.
“In contrast, life is returning to normal in those countries following a Zero-Covid plan.
“The vaccine offers us life at the end of the tunnel — but it will take many months to roll it out. To break the cycle of going in and out of lockdowns we need a new strategy.”
The People’s Assembly’s John Rees said: “We can’t afford another wasted lockdown from Boris Johnson. We need the vaccine rolled out faster, greater financial support for workers and for this to be the very last lockdown. A Zero-Covid strategy will deliver that.”
Stand Up to Racism said the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on BAME communities had been stark, “from the thousands of deaths to the economic impact, and the use of police powers against black communities.”
A Zero-Covid strategy was needed to address the pandemic and the inequalities it has intensified, it said. “This must be a priority for all anti-racists, which is why Stand Up to Racism is proud to support it.”
The government’s handling of the pandemic has been nothing short of disastrous. There has been a steadfast refusal to learn from the mistakes of the past or from the successes of other countries.
Time to fight back with a Zero Covid strategy!
On January 24th we heard from speakers including Jeremy Corbyn MP, Diane Abbott MP and Richard Horton (Lancet) at our launch event, which you can watch back below.