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Zero Covid | Munk Debates

SEASON TWO - EPISODE #12

Zero Covid

Be it Resolved: the threat of new COVID-19 variants makes elimination of the virus the only viable, long-term public health strategy to end the pandemic.

Guests
Stephen Duckett
Simon Thornley

About this episode

B117, N501Y, P1, - these are the labels for new variants of the COVID-19 virus that have led to new waves of infection in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil and are now spreading around the world. Studies suggest that these variants could be substantially more infectious and possibly more lethal than the early COVID-Sars - 2 strains. Most worrying, the mutations that characterise these variants may reduce the effectiveness of the long awaited vaccines leading to new surges in cases, more deaths, and forcing vaccination efforts to achieve levels of mass inoculation that are a public health nightmare. In light of the ongoing threat of COVID-19, some infectious disease experts are pushing for what is being called a “Zero Covid” strategy to bring the pandemic to an end. They say that countries like Australia and New Zealand have proven it is possible to all but eliminate the virus and the rest of the world needs to follow their example. They argue that strict, comprehensive, and long-lasting lockdowns that bring COVID cases close to zero is the best way to deal with the original strains of the virus and head off the even greater threat posed by the new variants.

Critics of an elimination strategy say that the kind of lockdowns it envisions are based on an irrational, overly fearful reaction to a pathogen that is no riskier than influenza for the vast majority of the population. They say that lockdowns are causing long term harms that far outweigh the public health impact of COVID-19. Countries which have tried to eliminate the virus have sacrificed the well being of their societies and economies for the epidemiological pipe dream of zero Covid. The right approach is one based on learning how to live with COVID and managing the threats it poses to the elderly and vulnerable.

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Guests

Stephen Duckett

Stephen Duckett

Stephen Duckett is Director of the Health Program at Grattan Institute. He has a reputation for creativity, evidence-based innovation, and reform in areas ranging from the introduction of activity-based funding for hospitals, to new systems of accountability for the safety of hospital care. An economist, he is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.

Simon Thornley

Simon Thornley

Simon Thornley is a Public Health Physician, lecturer and researcher in the section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His research interests include epidemiological methods, low carbohydrate and low sugar approaches to diet, and the link between scabies and important diseases of childhood, such as acute rheumatic fever.  Outside of work, Simon is an avid reader, cyclist and photographer. He also dabbles in electronics and computing. He co-ordinates the course POPLHLTH 304 (Applied Epidemiology; undergraduate) and POPLHLTH 709 (Evidence Based Practice; postgraduate) in the section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Simon is also a keen user of R software.  

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