The Folly of ‘Zero Covid’

There are many objections to the lockdown strategies being inflicted upon Australians. Many of these I leave to others to address, but one of them – the goal of ‘zero Covid’ touches upon my personal experience of virus infection.

The original intention of the gross curtailments of liberties we refer to as ‘lockdown’ was declared to be ‘to prevent the health services being overwhelmed’. That reasonable objective lasted about ten minutes, and now exists, if at all, in name only. Public policy is now either explicitly or implicitly directed at ‘Zero Covid’, with even Gladys stooping to using the absurd phrase ‘crushing the virus’.

This unattainable goal promises to condemn us to a state of eternal crisis, to the destruction of our economies, and ultimately of our society.

In April, 1977 I was living in New South Wales, having recently migrated from the UK, where I had been born and, like all children of my generation, received both the Salk and the Saben polio vaccines.

During the Anzac long weekend, I developed a severe headache and fever. On the Tuesday morning, I began to lose the use of my left arm. My fever was now raging. After a brief consultation with a GP, I checked into RPAH. Over the next few days, I lost entirely the use of my left arm, and almost all function in my right arm. The doctors treating me were at a loss to diagnose my illness, but speculated that I might have caught poliomyelitis, a disease none of them had encountered before, since it was believed to have been eradicated from our society.

During the acute phase of the disease, I also developed severe breathing difficulties, and for a period of about 18 hours felt as though I was continually short of oxygen.

Having survived the acute phase of the disease, I recovered partial use of my right arm. I entered rehab, and began to learn to live with my disability.

Many years later, I encountered an Indian spinal surgeon whose career had included a stint as ‘Director of Poliomyelitis’ for the Indian government. I took the opportunity to describe my symptoms and ask his opinion. He told me he was certain I had contracted a variant of polio.

I mention this personal history for two reasons.

  • In the hope that I may escape the glib accusation typically hurled at Covid policy sceptics that we ‘don’t know how serious this virus is.’ I know from experience what it is like to have a headache many times worse than anything I had previously experienced. And I know what it is like to fight for breath, yet never seem to get enough. I wouldn’t wish such an experience on anyone, but nor do I need the admonitions of bien pensant lockdown enthusiasts to convince me of the seriousness of Covid to those few unlucky enough to suffer a bad attack.
  • Because I had polio two decades after the last major epidemic in Australia, since when it was believed that it had been eradicated – that we had reached, in current parlance ‘Zero Polio’. It follows, for me, that policies aimed (whether explicitly or not) at ‘crushing Covid’ are a cruel and wasteful misuse of executive power. There is no reason to believe that Covid can ever be eliminated.

To apply the logic of lockdown retrospectively to my instance of polio, NSW should have been in ‘polio lockdown’ for the previous twenty years! Since such a policy is – or ought to be – self-evidently absurd, one must conclude that Covid is a virus we must live with, just as, aided by vaccines and a range of traditional – and voluntary isolation strategies, we have always lived with viruses.

Tom Forrester-Paton

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