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Boris Johnson and his advisors, Photo: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, linked at bottom of article

The government is still pursuing ‘herd immunity’ when we should be aiming to eliminate the virus to stop its spread, argues Caitlin Southern

Once again, the government has been shown to be failing to pursue a coherent Covid elimination strategy. They are trying to encourage a return to the ‘flatten the curve’ policy that was mooted at the beginning of the pandemic, avoiding the point that this is herd immunity by another name.

Herd immunity cannot be achieved without a reliable vaccine and to push this strategy now is not only dangerous, but indicative of the heartless belief of those in government that keeping the economy afloat is more important than safeguarding the lives of the population.

The only viable option if there is going to be a return to any sort of ‘normal’ society is to eliminate the virus, as any other approach leaves the door open to further surges and thousands more avoidable deaths.

The fear that we’re sliding backwards in this crisis is palpable, as is the leaden despair that accompanies it. We face a winter without the right PPE, mixed messaging over how the pandemic is being handled and what the end goal is, and a government determined to ignore inconvenient experts as the death toll rises again.

This ‘curve flattening’ approach is a favourite of those on the right of the Conservative Party who seem to be winning the internal debate over messaging at the expense of those who would listen to SAGE and implement effective measures to stop the virus from spreading further. Despite the fact that the scientific understanding of this novel virus has moved on from the start of the pandemic all those months ago, the government is still committed to the idea that we can somehow get ahead of infections without using proper containment procedures.

The inaccurate portrayal of ‘herd immunity’ that is being pushed is massively damaging as it reinforces the message that some lives are worth less than others and that economic productivity is the only worthwhile measure of a person’s existence.

The deliberate misuse of scientific terminology also undermines public confidence in the science and the experts as the messaging is both confused and confusing. The outcome of this is that compliance with guidelines drops to some degree, as people become fatigued and cynical, and start to feel that all of the sacrifices that so many made over the summer were wasted.

We have seen tens of thousands of preventable deaths.  We risk hundreds of thousands more if the government doesn’t change track and invest in a functional, funded and coherent zero-Covid strategy rather than allowing the virus to spread through the population at the rate it currently is.

The massive rise in infections that has accompanied the return to workplaces, schools and universities demonstrates that ‘Covid secure’ measures in place are not effective, largely due to the lack of a functioning testing system that leaves people in limbo as they try to work out which rules apply in any given setting.

The soundbite that ‘we’re all in this together’ rings ever more hollow as we see clearly a government that will take no responsibility for its actions but will continually put the blame onto structures that have been stripped and underfunded for years, as well as blaming the public for not following rules that seem arbitrary and ill-thought out.

We will not be safe from this coronavirus, or any more novel pathogens, while we have a government that puts private profit ahead of public safety, hides private contracts behind NHS branding or sidelines scientific evidence that doesn’t suit their narrative.

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