Zero Covid Strategy

Zero-Covid is not a strategy for more lockdowns, it is a strategy to prevent further lockdowns.

It is a strategy that prioritises public health by putting in place testing and tracing systems, extra resources in health care, ensuring workplace safety, protecting those who cannot work and the vulnerable and decongesting overcrowded settings such as factories and housing. A Zero Covid strategy allows us to get the level of the virus so low that it can be tested, tracked, traced, isolated and therefore contained so that there is virtually no community transmission. The key is to contain the virus so it can be prevented from spreading so that we can lift restrictions and prevent perpetual cycles of lockdown. 

Governments in the North and South of Ireland have made a mess of Covid-19.  Their policies have failed and threaten to rush us into an endless cycle of lockdowns.

 From March until June, people made a huge effort and almost crushed the virus through social  solidarity and distancing.  On 26th June there were just 4 new cases of COVID-19 in the North and 10 in the South. 

Instead of using the breathing space of  lockdown to prepare for the future, the Irish government and the Northern Executive gave in to business interests and reopened the economy before every measure was in place to guarantee the safety of workers and communities. Critically they failed to build up the public health infrastructure needed to control the virus and deal with outbreaks thereby preventing the need for further lockdowns.

Their decision to open up without having these protections in place is what kick started the resurgence of infections we are experiencing now.

More recently, their decision to ignore NPHET recommendations has proven a catastrophe. Just two weeks after they ignored NPHET’s recommendation for a nationwide move to Level 5, the government has been forced to introduce more restrictions, but for a six week period instead of four. Their delay in implementing necessary restrictions allowed the virus to spread, it has made the virus harder to control and will sadly mean more unnecessary deaths and suffering.

Here is their record so far:

  • They refused to implement a coordinated cross-border approach to the pandemic.
  • They dismantled testing and tracing systems in the South when the virus was at a low level, re-deploying staff back to previous posts and failing to recruit permanent staff to our public health teams to build a robust and comprehensive tracking regime.
  • They failed to put in place enough testing capacity and a functioning tracing system in the North.
  • They failed to implement effective testing at airports and to clarify guidelines around essential travel.
  • They turned a blind eye to infections in meat plants on both sides of the border, ignoring pleas from workers and unions. Not a single meat plant owner was fined for breaches of  safety.
  • They let COVID-19 rip in direct provision centres and refused to let asylum seekers out.
  • They dismantled Emergency Homeless Accommodation, which had allowed for social distancing and isolation. 
  • In the North, they promoted a Tory policy of ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ encouraging huge numbers to go to restaurants. A US CDC study from July showed that people were twice as likely to test positive for Covid-19 if they had eaten out in the previous two weeks .
  • Simultaneously, they pressured people back to work by cutting supports  like the Pandemic Unemployment Payment in the South. 
  • North and South, they ignored advice from health experts to move more swiftly to reinstate greater restrictions, just as they did in Westminster.

The result of their failure to control the virus has been a disaster. Derry and Strabane, as of the 11th of October, had a seven-day  incidence of 960 cases per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the world. Including Derry and Tyrone, there are now 12 counties  with a 14-day case incidence of over 200 per 100,000. The virus is spreading rapidly across  Ireland. Only five counties have a 14-day incidence rate of less than 100. 

For context, it is worth comparing Irish state policies with those of Germany, a country that is  controlling the spread of the virus far better than Ireland. In Germany, if any region hits an  incidence of 50 cases per 100,000, a “red alert” is triggered and new restrictions are  automatically applied at a local level to control the virus before it spills over to other regions.  This means far less restrictions across Germany as a whole and greater safety for those most  vulnerable to COVID-19.

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