Opinion with Christine Tongue: Could a zero tolerance approach beat the virus?

Zero tolerance?

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’s supported by the Independent SAGE committee of scientists  and Hazards Campaign for workplace safety. Save Our NHS in Kent has adopted it as a local policy.

It might save us.


  1. If we had a zero tolerance lockdown policy to prevent the spread of the Covids, why would it still be appropriate for people to go out for a click and collect coffee from Costa ?

    If you want a cup of coffee, make yourself one at home !

    Surely we have to be sensible, get everybody vaccinated, and then open up shops, pubs, museums, etc. with some precautions in place in order that everybody can get back to work, start earning money, and get the economy running again.

    We cannot provide open-ended financial assistance for those unable to work . . . unless of course we put 50% VAT on takeaway coffees and those firms start paying their full share of taxes to the government !

    • I have zero tolerance for people who don’t do their research on vaccine damage Peter. Government lost a court case trying to avoid paying out after Swine Flu vaccine damage. And that’s just one example. And this is very current:
      Open Letter from the UK Medical Freedom Alliance to: Nadhim Zahawi – Minister for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Matt Hancock – Secretary of State for Health and Social Care MHRA
      Cc: Boris Johnson – Prime Minister
      05 February 2021
      Re: Urgent warning re Covid-19 vaccine-related deaths in the elderly and Care Homes

        • Conspiracy theory was a term framed by the CIA at the time of the JFK killing to shut down any questioning of the official narrative. Still a successful propaganda tool for some hiding the truth. But so old hat Peter, and the Telegraph once wrote an excellent article on 15 conspiracy theories that turned out to be true. And official letters to ministers are fact not fiction. Bet you are still looking for the weapons of mass destruction under your bed:).

          • I don’t usually even bother debating with those who post all this cr*p on the internet while hiding behind an alias, but I’ll say this:

            I trust the government, and I trust the vaccines. I’m 58 years old, and I have underlying health issues (I’m on medication following a heart attack and fitting of a stent 30 months ago), yet I’m on the volunteer list for testing of vaccines. THIS is the way out of this mess, and I would gladly support them being mandatory for all adults.

      • I have no problem with people who refuse to have the vaccine . . . provided of course that they are refused entry to pubs, restaurants, theatres, shops, museums, aircraft, busses, toilets, cafes, hospitals, doctors surgeries, dentists and anywhere else I may choose to frequent.

        • Ditto John. There may be no official plans for a Vaccine Passport, but I do believe that more and more places over time will insist on some sort of proof… I certainly hope so!

  2. People will only advocate zero tolerance when it suits them sadly. The enormous human and financial costs of lockdowns mean that many would advocate opening up society before any more damage is done on the mental health and suicide front, for children and young people, for those not having medical conditions treated, for businesses going to the wall and for the old and vulnerable living in practical isolation. Plus for the many community projects unable to function. I’d have zero tolerance for press censorship, as the UK Medical Freedom Alliance has written to government ministers and the MHA on 5 Feb with an urgent warning re Covid-19 vaccine-related deaths in the elderly and Care Homes. They outline similar concerns world-wide, and include statistics and sources. And yet the media dare not breathe a word with all their government advertising support. Virus will come and go and mutate every year. How strange nobody addresses that one in an honest and realistic way.

  3. Zero tolerance for anyone not wearing a mask. If you dont want to wear a mask dont go out. I have COPD and manage to wear one. I havnt been out for weeks though since the cases went up after Christmas

    • If wearing masks is effective, then we should *all* wear them in shops, on public transport etc without exception. I don’t see why having a “condition” entitles you to spread round a lethal virus.
      But I happen to think that mask wearing does very little in most circumstances. During the first lockdown, fewer than 25% were masks, yet within a couple of weeks infection rates plummeted.
      After the lockdown was relaxed, it was made mandatory to wear masks in shops and so on. Despite this, the infection rate rose exponentially. It only started to come down again when the lockdown was reintroduced.
      Ergo: wearing face masks does very little; keeping socially distanced does.

  4. Aiming for zero Covid isn’t at all sustainable. We live in a global society. At some point borders and international travel will have to reopen. New Zealand is not a global connective travel hub. They can close their borders and keep them closed. We can’t.

    Covid will now be around forever. We are still seeing the descendant viruses from the Spanish flu now – some 100 years later. As a society we have to decide what is an “acceptable” level of hospitalizations and deaths each year and live with it. Vaccinate the vulnerable and elderly and open everything back up.

    The long term economic impact and mental wellbeing impacts will be far worse than keeping everything on lockdown.

    • The UK might once have been a global hub. That doesn’t mean it has to be in the future.
      We’ve already taken the first step by voting “Brexit”. We could isolate ourselves (like NZ) and have a near-normal life style.
      One thing is pretty clear: the days if her setting round the world have gone.
      It can only be a good thing, in so many ways.

  5. Its a natural reaction: punish the rule-breakers. But one theory is that our Covid death rate is because we are a nation of rule deniers – like Trump’s USA, Bolsonaro’s Brazil. Macho nonsense that rules don’t apply to me – to hide inadequacy.The clever nations with minimal death rates naturally follow societies rules – Japan, New Zealand. Christine herself gives plenty of examples where people cannot follow restrictions in order not to starve because Covid rates and deaths are also determined by inequality, those who are poorer have less space, and like TB crowding causes infection.

    • Indeed. The Western World also has too many daft conspiracy theorists who don’t trust their governments.

  6. As usual people in comments would rather blame their fellow civilians when the blame lies solely with the government and its failures.

    The article makes some good points and we do need to get to zero. Currently the government is still causing massive damage to the economy, mental health and causing deaths because of their slow half measure approach. Whilst our local MP Craig is still saying we need to unlock and take “reasonable deaths” on board. The economy won’t recover until we get this properly under control and the vaccine alone won’t do that. We are heading to new peak after new peak on our current plans.

      • Of course a vaccine alone won’t do. ALL experts are in agreement with that.

        From this stage – which lets be honest is far far too late – you need effective track and trace, working hand in hand with proper border controls. Not a half baked hotel scheme. A proper “zero tolerance” at the borders. We are and island – it should be easier to deal with this than we have.

        We will constantly play catch up and new strains being let in will undermine the whole point of vaccination. People seem to be under the illusion that a vaccine protects them. It doesn’t. There is a fair chance you won’t be protected but the numbers of everyone being vaccinated means that even if it doesn’t work for you – you are safer. It’s a long long process. Add in strains and it’s even longer. Every little helps though. The key is to have the structure in place around it. It starts with a “Australian” style hotel system. Which is not what we are doing. We are ignoring the lessons they have learnt.

        We still refuse to effectively track and trace even though we have paid far far more for a system than all the countries that have a system that works.

        We are unfortunately still miles and miles from any way out of this.

        Set an alarm on your phone for December and come back to this comment. We will be back in a winter of deaths and will have lost control of it again.

  7. It’s not clear in the article (unless I missed it): has Christine Tongue been vaccinated? Or is she against such things?

  8. Vaccination should seem easy and socially helpful. Protecting yourself protects your community. Theres a lot of misinformation around which needs to be countered and a lot of mistrust of anything organised by the government- not surprisingly! Let’s get everyone vaccinated who wants to be and then encourage the others. Does any country make medical treatment compulsory?

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