Professor Baker says the main reason for writing this paper was to summarise what has been learned in New Zealand and Australia with COVID-19 elimination and to share these lessons with countries struggling with the pandemic.
“Over the course of this year, we have been in regular contact with overseas colleagues, particularly in the UK, who are advocating for their governments to take an elimination or ‘zero covid’ approach. The emergence of an apparently more infectious virus variant is just another reason to eliminate this infection.”
Conditions favouring successful elimination include informed input from scientists, political commitment, sufficient public health infrastructure, public engagement and trust, and a safety net to support vulnerable populations.
Professor Wilson says one of the perceived barriers to applying a vigorous response, such as elimination, to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the belief that this might sacrifice the economy and ultimately result in more hardship and negative health effects.
“Our preliminary analysis suggests that the opposite is true. Countries following an elimination strategy – notably China, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand – have suffered less economically than countries with suppression goals. Our analysis was based on gross domestic product (GDP) projections for all of 2020 from the International Monetary Fund.”
International tourism, for example, is substantially reduced, regardless of individual countries having border control restrictions, Professor Wilson says.
“Iceland reopened to tourism, but the demand remained low, imported cases of COVID-19 increased and the net effect was a larger decline in GDP than was seen in New Zealand.”
The introduction of effective COVID-19 vaccines is also likely to further facilitate elimination, the researchers say.
Reference: Baker M, Wilson N, Blakely T. 2020. Elimination may be the optimal response strategy for covid-19 and other emerging pandemic diseases. BMJ. 371:m4907. doi: 4910.1136/bmj.m4907
Link to paper: https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4907