Paris | In Auckland, 2 million New Zealanders began a three-day lockdown on Monday due to three cases of Covid-19. Strike fast and hard to quickly restore normality: This is the so-called “Zero Covid” strategy adopted in Asia and Oceania. But is it applicable in Europe?
This strategy aims to reduce the spread of the coronavirus to zero in a region or country, thanks to the strict measures taken as soon as cases appear, along with strict control of infection foci (testing, tracking, isolation). At the same time, normal life can continue in areas where the virus is not spreading.
More and more specialists are begging to implement this strategy in Europe.
And confirms the epidemiologist Antoine Flahault that “the advantage is three times higher for the countries that adopted it,” New Zealand, Australia, China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“On the health level, they are the undisputed world champions due to the low number of deaths per person, and at the social level, life has resumed its rights: bars, restaurants, cultural and sports activities, schools and universities are usually open, and the barrier is almost non-existent.”
Professor Flahault, Director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva, adds: “Finally, on the economic front, both Taiwan and China witnessed positive GDP growth in 2020.”
He considers that the “Zero Covid” option is clearly preferable to the “mitigation strategy of most Western countries”, which “organizes, between two waves, coexistence with” the virus.
Living with the virus, what does that mean? Martin Mackie, professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, agrees, “The current situation is unacceptable. It creates a lot of long-term uncertainty.”
“We are trying unsuccessfully to control the epidemic,” he said. “There is a permanent renewal, and consequently additional cases of imprisonment, and no one can plan anything, go on vacation, get married, or invest in establishing a restaurant.”
“The more the virus spreads, the more we are exposed to mutations. We cannot continue into the third, fourth and fifteenth wave,” as Professor Mackie insists, convinced that Zero Covid is the “only alternative”.
But can this strategy be transferred from one side of the world to the other? “It will be more difficult in Europe,” said Professor Archie Clements, an epidemiologist at Curtin University in Perth.
“There are several reasons: greater mobility in Europe, much higher population density in cities, the dependence of the European economy on cross-border travel and the fact that Europe is a major travel destination,” he told AFP.
“In Australia and New Zealand, we have natural advantages that cannot be replicated anywhere else, especially our isolation and our lack of land borders.”
This kind of argument does not convince the Europeans of “Zero Covid” supporters.
“When the UK records a higher death rate than Germany, Switzerland or France, we are not saying isolationism is the cause of its poor performance,” notes Professor Flahault, while conceding that this strategy will include border controls in the Schengen area.
Professor Mackie notes that “Taiwan and Vietnam have high population densities”. He also rejects another theory that is sometimes put forward, according to which Asians bow more than Europeans to these shock measures: “It is a somewhat imperial vision.”
Whether the “Zero Covid” strategy is importable or not, it is “too late for that in Europe”, as the virus and its variants are spreading strongly, as Professor Clements judges.
Professor Flahault says, “Europe missed the opportunity to adopt a Zero Covid strategy at the end of first incarceration” and “preferred to take advantage of the summer” by “allowing the virus to flow away.”
He wants “our democracies to open a real debate” to avoid “repeating the mistakes of the past”: “Many European countries will reach a significant reduction in the epidemic within a few weeks and will have to pose the question to themselves.”