You must have heard of “zero tolerance”. You know, where you don’t tolerate even the slightest crossing of a line, the tiniest breaking of a law, the smallest piece of dropped litter? It’s a popular idea and a lot of people think it works. It always seemed a bit mean to me – getting arrested for dropping your bus ticket in the street because there’s a crackdown on littering, or going two miles over the speed limit etc etc. Punishing the almost innocent for the sins of the many.
Well I’ve changed my mind. Many scientists now believe the covid virus can only be beaten with a zero tolerance approach: zero covid. If the UK had done this from the beginning we might be in the same position as New Zealand – almost back to normal.
But we locked down late, let the people who thought herd immunity was a good idea influence the politicians, let people plan for the summer and Christmas as if we’d got the virus on the run, and prioritised people going to work rather than people staying safe.
Test and trace didn’t work. And still doesn’t. Thanks, Dido Harding, pal of the PM, for a great job!
Now we’ve got the vaccines. Hurray! But if we let the virus go on sneakily spreading in the community it will mutate again and the current vaccines won’t work.
In our community there are still what a friend calls “covidiots”, who don’t believe in mask wearing and think the vaccinators are microchipping you to sell you to aliens or something.
People are still dying in hundreds every day and being infected in tens of thousands. Why don’t we at least try for a zero covid strategy?
Dr Coral Jones of Save Our NHS in Kent says: “We can’t vaccinate our way out of this pandemic. we need a zero COVID strategy integrated into a public NHS ”
On this theory, the only way to control the spread of covid is by not accepting even one instance of it.
I watched a conference run by Zero Covid last week which surprised me by not prioritising the medics – though they were there too – but health and safety officials – the sort of people who tell your employer when it’s not safe to have staff working because it’s too cold or something might drop on your head, or splatter chemicals as you work.
Well, covid is a workplace issue. Get too close to someone infected, or in a closed environment where everyone is breathing the same atmosphere and your whole workforce can become ill or become spreaders.
We, the public, think we’ve been told to stay at home, work from home or get paid to not work. But how many can actually do that? Think about your own family and friends.
In my family, a driving instructor niece caught covid early on from a pupil just before lockdown. The pupil died.
Another relative on furlough for six months was told his workplace was safe to go back to – work bubbles, hand sanitisers etc. But to get there he had to take a bus. Long shifts meant buying food in local takeaways. And his work meant coming into contact with huge numbers of the public. He got a cough. His elderly dad, who lives with him, got covid, and amazingly survived, but no thanks to the work practices his son was having to conform to.
Of course the NHS workers I know were in danger. One got it from ill fitting PPE, another got it from walking through a covid ward with no warning on the door.
In the early days a lot of mistakes were made, but we know more now. We know that working very close together in closed in spaces for long periods, like in a salad packing factory, easily infects everyone there.
We also know that people meeting the public like bus drivers are in extra danger. They have the additional stress of having to ask the public to comply with mask wearing and distancing.
Today I picked up an online petition to protect Costa workers by making every sale click and collect. Why? Because if you get someone in your shop you can’t force them to wear a mask and you can’t stop them touching stuff. People can carry the virus and pass it on without suffering symptoms.
And how many people are pushed into work because they won’t get paid otherwise, can’t be furloughed and can’t work from home?
My NHS friend worries about a patient recovering from chemotherapy and told to shield. But sick pay isn’t enough to pay the mortgage and feed his wife and small children, so he’s back doing building work. What else can he do?
A Zero covid policy demands:
A full UK-wide lockdown until new cases in the community have been reduced close to zero.
An effective find, test, trace, isolate and support system, run locally in the public sector, to quickly squash any further outbreaks.
Covid screening, and where necessary quarantine, at all ports of entry to the UK.
And a guaranteed livelihood for everyone who loses money because of the pandemic.
Check it out for yourself at http://zerocovid.uk/founding-statement/
It might save us.