Since the beginning of the pandemic, China has suffered the brunt of Covid 19. Those first known to be infected were from Central China’s Hubei province, Wuhan. The country’s policy for dealing with the virus has been amongst the strictest worldwide. Alongside Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam, China has followed a Covid-Zero strategy since March 2019. Alternatively, the UK and the majority of Europe have continued to ease restrictions in efforts to mitigate life with Covid-19.
Covid-Zero aims to eliminate all new infections, and to successfully achieve this has meant the implementation of tight government restrictions. The purpose of said policy is to resume all pre-pandemic social and economic development, as opposed to adjusting for life alongside the virus. The Chinese government aims to eradicate covid, whereas the majority of the world has instead opted for mitigation strategies that will slowly reduce the numbers of those newly infected.
Many countries have managed the ongoing pandemic through mitigation strategies because of the desirability of lessened restrictions and to avoid economic and societal standstill. To mitigate covid would mean to, eventually, come to a socially acceptable number of endemic cases. Mitigation, unlike Covid-Zero, aims to decrease covid numbers and ‘flatten the curve’, although not entirely. It would, theoretically, become ‘normal’ to both transmit and be infected by strains of covid without serious health risks due to population immunity.
Current mitigation strategies in the UK involve the non-compulsory vaccination programme and the optional wearing of face masks in public spaces. According to the official UK government website, ‘Living with Covid-19’ involves lifting all restrictions, including having to self-isolate following a positive test. Countries in favour of mitigation often are because of the high transmissibility of the latest Omicron variant. The expected emergence of further strains will increase the difficulty of eradication.
According to John Hopkins University’s CSSE Covid data, China experienced a record high of 30,557.14 coronavirus cases on April 21st 2022. This figure has decreased to 9,835 newly infected cases as of May 11th 2022. A criticism of Covid-Zero is that the virus, like the common cold or seasonal flu, has to be lived with and integrated into our daily lives, not eliminated.
Comparatively, the UK had 8,330 new cases on April 11th 2022, similar to China’s figures during the beginning of April. Prior mitigation strategies in the UK were considerably more rigorous in 2020 than now. According to The Health Policy’s Covid-19 policy tracker, the three-tiered system of Covid-19 alerts, introduced on October 14th 2020, allowed the UK government to ‘further simplify and standardise local rules’ and mitigate transmissibility. Depending on local infection rates, regions were deemed medium, high, or very high. The policy allowed for the localisation of infections.
Although May’s figures are now only a third of April’s thirty thousand, Shanghai is in a city-wide lockdown following last month’s spike. People are being sent to quarantine facilities to isolate those knowingly infected. Regular testing is mandatory, and all non-essential businesses have been closed. Food and all other essential supplies are being provided for by the government.
So, what strategy is most effective? Mitigation or Covid-Zero? World Health Organisation’s director, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, has labelled China’s approach to Covid as unsustainable during a press conference. Control measures are urged to be considered against economic and societal factors. However, China’s suppression of the virus has been provenly successful throughout the majority of the pandemic, with very few recorded cases prior to March of 2022. Although China has one of the lowest recorded mortality rates for coronavirus, Shanghai is in lockdown as a collective effort is made to achieve Covid-Zero this month.
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