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Could a ‘zero-COVID’ approach end Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak?

LONDON – UK has been devastated by the coronavirus.

The government’s response has been heavily criticized, the economic and manpower costs are enormous and a “second wave” may be lurking.

Of the 20 countries most severely affected by COVID-19, the UK has the highest per capita death toll – more than 70 per 100,000 – according to Johns Hopkins University.

But more and more experts believe that it doesn’t have to be.

Scientists are warming up with the idea that the UK could follow in the footsteps of another island nation, New Zealand, and eliminate the spread of the community over the next few months.

New Zealand went through 1

02 days with no new infections, before four new infections caused the city of Auckland to close on Wednesday. Prime Minister Jacinda Adern has urged everyone to stay home and stop the spread.

This “non-COVID-19” approach has been adopted by governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland, both part of the UK but with national governments setting their own health policies.

Gardai police officers check a checkpoint on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as they check for unnecessary travel between the two countries, in April.Charles McQuillan / Getty image file

And advocates of the non-COVID-19 method are now begging British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has faced criticism over what political opponents and some medical experts call the reaction. slow and lackluster against a pandemic, do the same in the UK.

“It’s like peeing in a swimming pool,” said Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh and a Scottish government adviser.

“Just because someone pee on one side doesn’t mean everyone won’t get dirty,” she said, referring to the idea that a country or region without COVID-19 could still be susceptible to infection. from outside import if it does not impose quarantine and other restrictions.

The current policy in the UK is to reopen society where possible, and to take local lock-in measures in areas where virus outbreaks occur. The government likens this to pressing on a car’s accelerator or brake depending on the desired speed.

Critics fear that this response strategy, accepting that the virus will circulate to a certain extent, will lock the country in purgatory, placing businesses in a non-binding state if they force them to. must open and close continuously.

On the other hand, the zero-COVID-19 approach would prioritize caution immediately in hopes of getting even greater returns later. In theory, this would stifle transmission in the community and then use an active inspection regime to find and isolate any new cases of imports.

It’s not about just “flattening the curve” – ​​it’s about crushing it.

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The sanctions will be eased more slowly than in the UK. And there will be quarantine and restrictive measures for unnecessary travel, not only at external borders but also domestically, if domestic hotspots appear.

This may sound extreme, but such policies are already in place in New Zealand. Only citizens and residents are allowed to enter – all others are banned without a good reason – and even then they have to pay $ 2,000 for 14-day isolation costs run by the real government exam. In Australia, the Victorian border that was hit by the virus has been closed to visitors.

People sit on rooftops of restaurants after restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 are lifted in Barcelona, ​​Spain, in JulyNacho Doce / Reuters file

However, New Zealand is much smaller than the UK in terms of economy and population, so if the UK goes this route it would have huge implications for international trade and holidays.

Andrew Hayward, an infectious disease epidemiologist at University College London, told NBC News that New Zealand should be congratulated for its success.

With less than 6 million people and a very low population density, however, that level of success will be hard to achieve in the UK, with nearly 70 million people with a much higher population density, he said.

Proponents of the zero-COVID-19 approach say this is a price to pay when receiving the potential reward: turning the British Isles into a land of isolated but reformed normality.

Sridhar, who was born and raised in Miami, says: “It’s about trade-offs and choices. “I think the New Zealand leadership has outlined those things really well. They say: You can get your life back and go to these big rugby games. water, will not be easy to return. “

Vicky Pryce, a board member of London-based consulting firm CEBR and a former UK government economic adviser, said the economic impact of isolating Great Britain or Great Britain would be ” catastrophe and maybe even ineffective.

“A lot of limitations [in New Zealand] is short and if you did them here … you have to believe the tracking system and activity trace. People can trust the New Zealand model more than they will trust the system here.

“I don’t think they are [the British government] have the ability to perform another door lock. “

Fans at the Bonn Live Kulturgarten 2020 Open Air Festival in July, in Bonn, Germany.File Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

Several zero-COVID-19 measures have been used in Scotland, where an estimated 10-30 daily infections are estimated compared to around 4,200 in the UK.

“Our decisions continue to be informed by our clear strategic goal of seeking to eliminate COVID,” Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a statement last week.

Even its proponents say that zero-COVID-19 really is likely not to happen as long as Scotland’s 96-mile border with Britain remains open and unregulated. That is why Sturgeon and others were disappointed that the UK did not use its natural island defense system for better efficiency.

Zero-COVID-19 will be extremely difficult to adopt in a country like Germany, which has a large border with nine other countries, says Sridhar. And it is almost unthinkable to be a realistic US strategy, with the sprawling patchwork of federal and state bureaucracy.

Despite the challenges, many experts consider it a reality for a country to eradicate COVID-19.

“There really isn’t a COVID,” said Ian Jones, professor of virology at the University of Reading in the UK.

“If the infected people are quarantined so they cannot be passed on to others, the virus dies when the main case is resolved. It doesn’t hide somewhere waiting to jump out, it’s gone.”

However, he said, this is difficult because asymptomatic cases are not detected very often, maintaining low levels of infection in the community.

“It’s important to experiment extensively, so you’ll pick out mild cases, then fast quarantine until its infectious process,” he said.

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