Covid Zero was the model to follow for months. Now their countries are still prisoners of confinements

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I have been covering the pandemic for more than two years with my tongue hanging out and my heart in my mouth. And perhaps the only good thing is that, between prevalence curves, uncertainties, worry and fatigue, I think I’ve learned a few things. The most obvious is that, as popular wisdom says, things are never as they seem. For months we entertained ourselves looking for some certainty in the countries that were doing better to discover that that “go better” was conditional, precarious and, above all, transitory.


We have gone from example to example until disaster final. Israel comes to mind, for example. After a quick and effective closure, Tel-Aviv opted to unfreeze the economy quickly to try to avoid the blow that the crisis represented at an economic and labor level. At that time, the country was an international reference, but it did not last long. The cascade of bad decisions ended up fueling a second wave of infections at the end of July 2020 that made Israel the first country in the world to return to the path of total closure in September of that same year.

With this I do not want to fall into a kind of epidemiological fatalism. I am not arguing that the pandemic was a “biblical plague” against which all approaches to health management were equally defenseless. This is not the case: we know that there were interventions more effective than others. What I want to say is that we must never forget that all decisions have their consequences and that, for all those countries that opted for the famous #COVIDZero strategy, the consequences are already here.

COVID Zero: a success with two faces

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What is “COVIDZero”? It is the term with which the strategy against the pandemic followed by countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea or China is usually called. These countries prioritized a framework for the containment and elimination of COVID. New Zealand, without going any further. came to confine an entire city for a single case. In other words, they focused all their efforts on reducing the cases of infection to zero, preventing the virus from circulating through their societies.

A successful strategy… Although it may seem disproportionate to us, this approach has proven to have quite a few strengths. international experience sample that the countries that opt ​​for this type of strategy “develop a more effective epidemiological and community response and with fewer negative economic and psychosocial consequences than those that opt ​​for a mitigation or group immunity strategy”. That made them a clear example for the whole world.

…but difficult to apply However, it was not easy to follow the path of COVIDZero. Only countries with a highly developed epidemiological muscle (South Korea), with the capacity to freeze society for long periods (China) or relatively isolated due to their geographical location (Australia or New Zealand) or due to its limited number of entry routes (Singapore or Hong-Kong) seemed to be able to implement it correctly.

Medium-term doubts. Soon, however, doubts began to arise. In the summer of 2021, while the world was slowly opening up thanks to the vaccine, the CovidZero countries they kept confining. At the time, it seemed like a reasonable price to pay to dodge the horror of March 2020 in Europe, and indeed it may still be. But many were beginning to wonder how all these countries were going to be able to rejoin the outside world if, as the experts said, the virus was not going to disappear.

Prisoners of their own politics

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Ed Dunens/Flickr

And, as we are seeing, the answer is complicated. These days, due to the rebound in infections, China has imposed a total closure of one week in Shenzhen, one of the world capitals of electronics. The closure directly affects dozens of factories and suppliers (from manufacturers such as Apple, Volkswagen or Toyota) and that is why it has drawn the attention of the Western world, but it is one more case of the long string of closures and confinements to which the Beijing government has been subjecting the country.

However, that is only part of the problem. These weeks we are discovering another unforeseen consequence of the COVIDZero strategy: that the absence of infections reduce “social pressure” to get vaccinated and immunization rates are growing very slowly. That makes opening up to the world even more complicated: the virus is still out there and, within the country, there are no “epidemiological walls” to contain it.

If we add to this that countries like China have chosen to use their own vaccines (less effective), disaster seems imminent. Like it shows the case of hong kong: that despite having the same number of cases as New Zealand, it has many more deaths related to SARS-CoV-2.

Seeing the isolated data, the false impression can be generated that it is a contagion problem, which too. But, today, the infections in Europe, the United States or South America are still much higher (although the Hong Kong case is beginning to be really worrying). Rather, it is about understanding how the maximalist policies of the COVIDZero countries themselves have led them to be prisoners of suppression. And that brings us, again, more than two years later, to the quarantine camps, thousands of confined by contagion and the worst memories of the first days of the pandemic. And what’s worse, without knowing when they will be able to get out of that situation.

Image | Kin Cheung/AP

I have been covering the pandemic for more than two years with my tongue hanging out and my heart in…

I have been covering the pandemic for more than two years with my tongue hanging out and my heart in…

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