#122: Only a Zero Covid Strategy Will Bring Success

Frequently, we hear the line “we have to learn to live with Covid.” It sounds nice. It sounds like there is a way of coexisting with the spikey bugger. But it is not realistic.

We have seen now that countries that used to be able to open up (Denmark, the UK, Sweden, even to some degree Germany) are now bracing for the combined effect of the Delta and Omicron variants. We have vaccines, and we know now that you need at least 2 regular shots and a booster, maybe a fourth shot later. Israel is researching this already – they are further into the cycle already.

But we know that this virus is apparently so complicated that even our highly advanced vaccines do not work as well after a while. What a miracle they are, how much safety they have given us so far – but they are not perfect, infections can still be transmitted despite vaccination.

This means that the virus, in its various mutations, is still spreading, infecting people, making people sick, putting some of them into hospitals, some of them into intensive care, and some of them to death. Just from pure statistics, it is clear that we can control death and hospital use only through controlling the number of infections.

Even if we control death by vaccinating, heavy hospital use still means that daily life will be severely impacted when infections are allowed to run wild. If hospitals are operating at capacity, we better make sure there are no accidents, heart attacks, other diseases and illnesses, cancer, surgeries, etc. Such things are part of life too – but if Covid stands in the way, there will not be any life.

Any hopeful delusion about “living with the virus” will end when numbers are high and translate into hospital overflow and death. And by the way, don’t doctors, nurses and hospital and healthcare staff get a break?

Get vaccinated, all over the world. Everyone. Wear your mask. Limit your contacts. Work and live from a distance if possible. We are still not through with it.

And no, I am not someone who principally enjoys being at home. I love to travel, converse with colleagues, see my students in person without fear, meet with friends and family, go dancing, go to concerts, to restaurants, see the outdoors, etc. I love life. But I love living my life as safely as possible – and I also love life for the sake of life. We should not feel like we need to sacrifice our lives and the lives of others away just some of us can pretend that things are as normal. Nothing here is normal, and declaring it to be so is sheer hubris, even lunacy.

Patience, my friends, as hard as this may be.

Addendum, 7/17/2022: We have seen now various different strategies as to what “Zero Covid” could possibly mean. Certainly, the Chinese model of permanent and brutal lockdowns is not desirable, neither is their strategy of refusing effective vaccination. This is not what Zero Covid should mean. A Lockdown needs to be used for vaccination and preparation, not to push through dictatorial fantasies of total control. Similarly, the idea of “living with Covid” cannot mean to abandon all caution and preparation. We need to do everything we can to make sure we avoid unnecessary suffering and death. This means vaccination, masking and allowing at-risk persons to work remotely. It also means society-wide solidarity rather than a primitive understanding of “freedom” as a self-centered insistence on ignoring public health and public safety. We can only beat this if we work together, with as little judgement and as much empathy and love as possible.