by Amy Jones
Tuesday, 15
February 2022
Reaction
10:12

RIP to the Zero Covid ideology

Only China now clings to the dream of a Covid-free world
by Amy Jones
Earlier this month, Jacinda Ardern re-opened New Zealand’s borders. Credit: Getty

As more and more countries report surging Covid cases, has the dream of Zero Covid finally been extinguished?

Take New Zealand, where a rigorous Zero Covid plan was implemented from the start. Earlier this month, just as the country finally decided to open its borders, New Zealand experienced its worst ever Covid outbreak. Meanwhile in Western Australia, another Zero Covid outpost, Omicron cases have been growing at record rates despite Premier Mark McGowan imposing strict restrictions and delaying reopening the state’s hard border.

Hong Kong too has lost its Zero Covid status. Cases have skyrocketed in spite of tough laws and harsh restrictions, including the slaughter of thousands of hamsters earlier this year in case they carried the virus. The rising cases are particularly concerning given the relatively low proportion of elderly people vaccinated in the city, a situation said to be in part due to the previous success of Zero Covid.

The plan to eradicate Covid from the globe entirely initially seemed a tempting response to a difficult pandemic. After all, who wouldn’t want a world free of Covid? However, it has long been clear to most mainstream scientists that after Covid had spread widely in March 2020, Zero Covid was an unachievable ambition. As Chris Whitty once famously explained: “the chances of eradicating this disease – which means getting rid of it absolutely everywhere – are as close to zero as makes no difference”.

Nonetheless, the idea of Zero Covid quickly developed into an ideology, and eventually a movement. Organisations such as the Covid Action Group, were formed with the aim of lobbying governments around the world. Policy suggestions included splitting countries into protected zones, with restricted travel and internal checkpoints, managed isolation of cases and contacts in quarantine facilities, and five-week strict lockdowns — all in the hope that Covid could be eliminated from a region, and eventually eradicated altogether.

While the strategy may have made sense for some island nations in a pre-vaccine world, the advent of vaccines changed the calculus. It still took many months for Zero Covid countries to drop the policy, reopen their borders and accept community transmission of covid. However, some commentators and politicians still cling to Zero Covid, even though the holdouts are fewer and fewer.

The last hope for the Zero Covid ideology now seems to be China. There, the government employs harsh, liberty-crushing restrictions such as mass detentions, quarantine camps, and brutal lockdowns, which have reportedly brought some cities to the brink of starvation. However, reports suggest that despite such stringent policies, even China is barely holding on to its Zero Covid ambitions, as Omicron and Delta spread throughout the country.

To many, including Chris Whitty, it may seem obvious that Zero Covid is not an achievable goal. Perhaps recent events will force remaining proponents to admit to this too, but given that eradicating Covid has long been a near-impossible ambition, it may take far more than these changing circumstances for believers to give up their dream of a Covid free world.

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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago

Look at Jacinda’s expression. I burst out laughing. She has that pained, caring look down pat. Many hours practice in front of the mirror I’m sure. #DavosWoman cares.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
4 months ago

If she ever ends up writing for the Guardian, she will have no shortage of options for her author picture.

George Glashan
George Glashan
4 months ago

your right Lesley she really has perfected that look. She modelling the ” I’m not angry, just disappointed in you” variant in the picture with this article.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
4 months ago

I thought it was a painful case of piles

Last edited 4 months ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

yes rather a contrast with Xi Jinping’s Winnie the Pooh look.
What fictional character would Jacinda be? The miserable dog that thinks everything is going to go wrong; the depressed robot in hitchhikers?
And then Putin – who could that be? Popeye?

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
4 months ago

To me it just looks like she passed gas and she knows she is going to be judged for it. I’ve had the look many times myself.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago

NZ is lifting all border restrictions to most countries by June, by which point it will have gone through its Covid spike the same as other nations have had. That will be the time to compare to see how it has fared against other nations in regards to hospitalisations and deaths, financial costs and duration of lockdowns.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Do you think we will see a truthful reckoning of financial costs? Somehow I very seriously doubt it. These politicians will never reveal how much their lunatic decisions have cost their countries – it will put them out of a job at best and in jail at worst. Smoke and mirrors, corrupt enterprises and corporate media will do the cleaning up for them.

Last edited 4 months ago by Lesley van Reenen
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You are correct Billy Bob – bizarre how so many other- wise intelligent- sounding people dont seem to be able to do basic maths ie NZ managed to have nearly zero deaths due to Covid whilst awaiting the development of vaccines – and now will steadily open up – am I just way more intelligent to be able to see that this has been a successful strategy ?? Or do many Unherd members actually follow a herd rather too often ?? Disappointing lack of original thinking going on here….

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
4 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Which is not to say ALL countries should have locked down – esp Africa – but in NZ’s case was the best policy. Sparsely populated countries, no. Few older people, no. Sparsely populated states, no . Different strategies for different scenarios , surely. India etc , no. Parts of Scandinavia, yes , japan, Korea, probably yes . etc etc etc. Pretty simplistic to lump ALL countries into one strategy, then complain that one size fits all dont you think ?? NZ just a teeny bit different than say Africa……….

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

I agree, horses for courses. I think lockdowns in Europe were largely pointless as the virus was already far too entrenched and I think they did little to stop the spread. NZ was in a different situation, in that the first lockdown eradicated the virus from the country and allowed everybody to live life as normal for a long time. It’s meant they’ve had chance to get the country vaccinated before letting it run riot, and I’ll wager once the current spike has passed they will have suffered much less hospitalisations and deaths than most other nations.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

But unfortunately vaccines didn’t deliver. Their efficacy, even against the original strain, waned after 6 or so months and even the booster is only good from 6-10 weeks. Moreover, the current vaccines are basically useless against Omicron. So exactly what did NZ do right. Further, NZ basically just leached on other countries, especially the UK and US, to do the work for them and develop a vaccine. I don’t see that NZ did anything in that regard even though they have a 1st rate research enterprise. At least other countries such as China and Russia developed their own vaccines. In fact, NZ is only fortunate because the virus mutated into the Omicron variant which only gives rise, in the main, to a bad cold.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

You can’t seriously expect a nation the size of NZ to have the medical development capacity to research, develop and manufacture vaccines? NZ has 5 million people, much less than most major cities and they’re major exports are primary industries such as farming and logging!
They also didn’t leach off those major nations, they paid full whack for the vaccines they purchased.
We’ll also now see how effective the vaccines are. The virus is now starting to work it’s way through the population, most of which is double jabbed and boosted. Therefore once NZ has had its spike we’ll be able to see case numbers and deaths and see how effective they have been compared to other nations

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Chris the point is that there will be no honest reckoning of the damages done by lockout and lockdown. I presume those tourism companies in New Zealand (tourism being one of their if not their biggest export), just continued and flourished?
Jacinda, like the rest of this political mob are incapable of telling the truth and will always look after their careers.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago

The tourism sector would have been dead and buried anyway, as almost every other country was bouncing in and out of lockdowns and various travel restrictions people simply wouldn’t have risked a long flight and expensive holiday to NZ with so much uncertainty

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
4 months ago

I genuinely dont think J is terribly career minded – I am picking she will exit as soon as someone else who is relatively honest and competent turns up – the Labour Party in NZ tends to have honest leaders in the main. She has had two incredibly stressful terms and has done her genuine best in a time of ‘difficult’ science. Absolutely bizarre that she is seen as some kind of evil witch – I really despair as to the functional intelligence of most of the human race……………..

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

She’s a career politician, there’s no doubt about that. I find the vitriol strange though, as she’s not what I’d class as particularly left wing. Her refusal to take on the vested interests of the housing speculators by failing to implement a capital gains tax despite a massive housing crisis being a major example. She’s centrist in the mould of Blair rather than a Corbyn type of situation.
There’s many things she’s done during her time as leader that I don’t necessarily agree with, but compared to the main opposition whose keynote speaker was George Osbourne pushing his austerity policies I’ll have to vote for her again as the alternative will be much worse in my opinion

Bruce Haycock
Bruce Haycock
4 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Can’t agree Chris. I live in Jacinda land. The uncosted costs will be felt for two generations in terms of misdirected debt spending and the the underbelly of education underachievement showing up in the social malaise statistics – these are just the longer term costs.
Every Covid management response has been inexcusably late and incompetent even from the safety of an island nation surrounded by the planets biggest moat
All driven by the ICU incapacity of the state health system and the imperative of avoiding TV cameras at the incoming ambulance bays. Inconceivably, the ICU capacity is now less than at the start of Covid due to an intransigent immigration policy which forced doctors and nurses on temporary work visas to leave at the same time as border controls banned new replacements.
You would appear to have little idea of the dysfunctional governance by this Davos darling – with the most extraordinary exception – the breathtaking ability to maintain a narrative in the media and public mind which is largely at complete variance with what too many are experiencing in their everyday lives, to say nothing in the trend lines of the economic and social metrics, however you may wish to measure these

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Haycock

So with NZs lack of ICU capacity (thanks to 30 years of neoliberalism after the Douglas reforms), doesn’t that make keeping the virus out until large numbers have been vaccinated a sensible solution? As you’re well aware the health system already struggles every winter, so would clogging it up with large numbers of Covid patients not have caused a large number of excess deaths from other illnesses that could otherwise have been avoided?
Most of NZ has also spent less time in lockdown than most other first world nations, and it’s debt to GDP ratio is under 50% whereas almost all of Europe is double that, with America higher again.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Also to provide perspective , the present housing crisis will probably cause way more grief to way more people than the Covid crisis ever will – thanks to neo-liberal largesse. – national squashing any hope of greed tax.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
4 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Haycock

The total lack of responsible leadership by National/Rogernomics has caused a housing crisis that , for many in NZ , will dwarf any adverse effects of Covid – just to keep things in perspective……

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Downvoted for merely saying what is happening, I didn’t even offer an opinion. The comments section is getting incredibly partisan unfortunately

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It is a trend that Unherd has some definite echo chamber tendencies vs genuine interest in others opinions and experiences. I do think though that part of the issue is that some members feel the need to comment on everything ie some ‘loud’ voices that are not so representative of the main corpus perhaps ?

James Watson
James Watson
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

As another New Zealander in New Zealand (and not, by the way, a fan of the prime minister), I agree with you that the policy of delaying the arrival of a significant outbreak of Covid 19 through isolation has almost certainly saved us from very many premature deaths. However, I would disagree that this has anything to do with the ‘vaccines’, which have been a spectacular failure internationally. Rather it has been because Covid 19 seems to have followed the trajectory of other (though I’m not sure all) epidemics, with the virus concerned moving towards a much more contagious but much less dangerous form. Great strides have been made in the meantime in the treatment of serious cases of the disease and New Zealand is presumably benefiting there as well. Hence we are now facing a much smaller death toll than if we had been open to the earlier variants. I’d emphasise that these things also clearly obviate any simple comparison between the ultimate death-rates in New Zealand and other countries.
We should not underestimate the economic and social costs of the policy followed here. It did after all require some massively expensive lockdowns, many families with members overseas suffered considerably, some tourism would have continued otherwise, unnecessarily onerous restrictions have been placed on some people in order to push them to accept the mRNA jabs and much public discourse has become more unpleasantly intolerant than well informed. On the other hand, these costs cannot compare with the costs in places where the authorities locked down long after there was any chance of their delaying the spread of the disease significantly.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
4 months ago

She looks as if she is seriously constipated.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
4 months ago

Covid strategies worldwide have caused harms that are of unprecedented proportions. Consider the mandates, vaccine passports, PCR tests, travel restrictions, economic disruption, social engineering, propaganda of fear , disrupted education, increased wealth gap….. and the list does on. I see it as dropping a nuclear bomb, the results of which cannot be seen immediately, but will have a rippling and a crippling effect for years, perhaps a decade.

People have stopped looking towards nature as a guide. Such is the hubris of the governments that in order to stay popular, they have abandoned the lessons of acquired knowledge of respiratory bugs and ignored the natural herd immunity science over the bizarre concept of lockdowns, face masks & segregation of a population of 7 billion. Those practising zero Covid have no knowledge of the logistics and suffering of what they have proposed.
As Covid comes to it’s natural end, there is no celebration, no hope that we have learnt vital lessons. Even now with protesting truckers in Canada and marching Australians, we all continue to be victims of the covid policies. Leaders had a fabulous opportunity to genuinely lead, unfortunately few rose to the occasion save a couple & all we are seeing is authoritarianism and misuse of power.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago

Spot on in your analysis and summary of the situation.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago

Excellent and every day there is something else to add – yesterday it was an increase in childhood obesity!

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
4 months ago

Especially when those with an agenda can exploit the zero covid ideology to advance their aims – whether that be narrow political self-interest, or shoring up share value for large digital corporations for whom lockdown and covid hysteria has been a goldmine.

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Also a practice run for implementing Zero Carbon.
The effects of which will end up making Covid look as alarming as a bum pimple.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
4 months ago

We are desperately in need of zero stupidity policy in post Covid world. Lets remind ourselves that death and disease are normal parts of a healthy life.

Last edited 4 months ago by Vijay Kant
Andrea X
Andrea X
4 months ago

Ah, sweet Devi Sridhar… How do I miss your ejaculations on how zero covid would be achieved had it not been for those mischievous English.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

You gotta laugh at the irony of the virus returning to its home in China. Schadenfreude of the most excellent order.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Aaaah, indeed

Andrew D
Andrew D
4 months ago

We should not rest until all hamsters are exterminated

James Joyce
James Joyce
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Cheeky! Well done, you!

Andrea X
Andrea X
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

You shan’t have mine!

Orlando Skeete
Orlando Skeete
4 months ago

What calculus have the vaccines changed? By every metric I have seen… variants, case numbers, hospitalization and deaths are much higher in a post vaccine world. This is amazing considering covid has mutated into a much milder strain. I guess that was one benefit of the vaccines, they may have provided selective pressure for omicron to flourish due to their leaky nature

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
4 months ago
Reply to  Orlando Skeete

And did the selective pressure enable Delta? I would have thought so.

Antony Hirst
Antony Hirst
4 months ago
Reply to  Orlando Skeete

And on a purely personal level, vaccines made eff all difference who got COVID in my family and how bad they got it.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
4 months ago

Those lockdown enthusiasts who faced, or were able to call early, elections during the peak of pandemic fear were rewarded handsomely, so who could blame them for going hard?

See Ardern, McGowan, Biden even.

The smart ones are now u-turning furiously while posing as if they always knew vaccines would arrive soon so therefore their strategy was perfect. Others are lost in hubris and may suffer a backlash.

Last edited 4 months ago by Brendan O'Leary
James Joyce
James Joyce
4 months ago

“There, the government employs harsh, liberty-crushing restrictions such as mass detentions, quarantine camps, and brutal lockdowns, which have reportedly brought some cities to the brink of starvation.”
I think Anonymous Amy has a typo above–doesn’t she mean Australia?
This article says very little, though anonymous Amy is still being protected. From China? If she angers China, will the NHS fire her? 8 paragaphs of tosh from a so-called expert? Really?
One might thing she would mention the long list of viruses that have been eradicated from the planet, but perhaps there were space considerations. Oh, wait–only smallpox–not worth a mention. 
The boffins who advocated Zero Covid–JA, Neil Ferguson–you supply the list, I think Sri Something in Scotland was one….are truly evil, stupid people no matter where there degrees are from and and how many letters they have after their names. Don’t believe them. As I tried to popularize on BBC–w/o much success, but hey, I tried–Trust the Science, not the scientists!
They–the elite–want to control us–the plebs. Never let a crisis go to waste. 

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
4 months ago

As the Chinese may well have released this virus, one can only wonder if there is a Chinese word for karma.

George Glashan
George Glashan
4 months ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Are these the Chinese words your looking for?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5qewPet3VE

George Glashan
George Glashan
4 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

its a reference to the Joe Rogan scandal, try and keep up people.

Sean Meister
Sean Meister
4 months ago

Zero Covid as an ideology only advanced because of the usual parade of midwit subjects who were enduring their time in the spotlight. Their ignorance and general dimwittery led to an inevitable power creep. The good news is that these people are broadly disgraced.

For China it’s the usual case of the government keeping their mandate heaven. Not to mention it helps Xi with his domestic reform agenda moving away from classic Dengist state capitalism.

Vyomesh Thanki
Vyomesh Thanki
4 months ago
Vyomesh Thanki
Vyomesh Thanki
4 months ago

China’s lack of faith in its vaccines, Chinese New Year, Beijing Olympic Games, transmissibility of Omicron or possible emergence of a variant are some of the reasons why China is pragmatically committed to a Zero Covid approach.
Without a zero tolerance strategy China could “experience huge numbers of hospitalisations and deaths”. With such an approach many Chinese feel safe and secure to go about their business.
Zero Covid approach has been highly effective in reducing Covid-19 deaths. It’s not meant to eradicate. It’s meant to reduce the transmission of zoonotic pathogens to a minimum, keeping deaths as low as possible. The Asia-Pacific region, from China to New Zealand, achieved this mainly by closing their borders while also minimising damage to their economy. With 80% vaccinated NZ can now cope with rise in Omicron cases caused by travellers from Australia. NZ has only 53 Covid deaths. Scotland with same population as NZ’s has 10,512 Covid deaths.
Zero Covid has kept Covid-19 deaths low not only in island nations. China with a population of 1.4 billion has just 4,636 Covid deaths, but their neighbour India with same size population has 509,388 Covid deaths. U.S. with a population of 329M has 921,000 Covid deaths. South Korea with a population of 52M has only 7,163 Covid deaths.
UK population of 70M: 178,000+ Covid deaths; 1,163 Covid deaths last week were mostly of those who were unvaccinated.

Last edited 4 months ago by Vyomesh Thanki
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
4 months ago
Reply to  Vyomesh Thanki

Thanks for some much needed perspective Vyomesh !

James Watson
James Watson
4 months ago
Reply to  Vyomesh Thanki

On the face of it that is an egregious misrepresentation of the situation in the UK. The latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency, which relate to the period between Week 3 and Week 6 of the year, show 303 deaths among the ‘unvaccinated’ and 2256 amongst those ‘vaccinated’ (two jabs plus booster) more than 28 days earlier (Vaccine Surveillance Report Week 7, p.42). Those figures are just for England but that is where the overwhelming majority of the UK’s population resides. Where are these figures for UK in the ‘last week’ published?