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Canadian med journal suggests 'COVID Zero' achievable, but only with strict lockdown

It points to the success of Melbourne, Australia, which eliminated COVID cases after 16-week lockdown
DNA image of COVID-19. (via Getty Images)

A position paper recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) suggests that one good way to resolve the COVID-19 crisis in Canada is to use the Melbourne model.

That's the name for the success of the City of Melbourne, Australia, which was in full lockdown for 112 days until early November, and the most recent news report indicates that after 28 days, not one new case of COVID-19 or death has occurred. 

This followed a second wave scenario where Australia's State of Victoria was experiencing thousands of new cases and hundreds of deaths. 

The authorities had struggled with what was called circuit breaker approach of trying to manage the pandemic with strict but short-term lockdowns that would bring the number of COVID cases down, only to watch the number rise again as restrictions were called off.

The CMAJ essay is suggesting that Canada might consider the COVID Zero approach of eliminating the virus.

"Canadians are facing renewed pandemic restrictions as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations resurge across the country. With health systems in the hardest-hit regions already feeling the strain, some doctors are urging aggressive action to bring the number of cases as close as possible to zero," said the essay. 

"Organizing under the social media hashtag #CovidZero, Dr. Andrew Morris and other health professionals are calling on governments to refocus Canada’s pandemic response on eliminating, rather than managing, community spread of SARS-CoV-2,” said the article.

The argument is that enduring the pain of longer and stricter shutdowns and other tough measures to achieve and maintain COVID Zero would be worth the payoff of averting repeated waves, ups and downs, of infections and restrictions. 

The article questions the challenges of such an approach and whether eliminating COVID in Canada "would be practically or politically feasible" without a vaccine. 

It was revealed that the Melbourne model worked after that city went through the same COVID-19 peaks and valleys that Ontario has experienced.

"But getting to zero involved curfews, a ban on travel more than five kilometres from home, and a one-hour limit on outdoor exercise. There were heavy fines for breaking the rules and mass arrests of anti-lockdown protestors. In one case, authorities forced 3,000 people living in public housing to remain in their units under guard," the essay revealed.  

There were also cases of people declaring themselves as "sovereign citizens" who had the right to rise above the laws for ordinary citizens proclaiming they would not wear masks or have their freedoms restricted. That didn't last long, especially after arrests occurred, and a senior police spokesman referred to "the selfish minority" as being "batsh*t crazy.”

The CMAJ essay notes that in Canada "the provinces hit hardest by the second wave are led by conservative governments that are ideologically ill-suited to adopting a #CovidZero approach. And early cross-partisan support for public health measures has fractured over time, with growing differences in mask usage and public trust between right-leaning and left-leaning Canadians."

That said, the article also said that polls indicate most Canadians would support tougher measures including a four-week shutdown of non-essential businesses. The Melbourne model lockdown lasted 16 weeks.

The article also revealed that Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam is worried the country could see more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day by early December if the country fails to bend the current upward trend in new infections. That has not happened yet, but the national numbers have been climbing


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Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

About the Author: Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at covering health care in northeastern Ontario and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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