Are We Done Yet?

by Deirdre Kelly

photography by Sofie Kirk

Can we eliminate COVID-19? Probably not, concludes a pertinent new study out of York University examining the efficacy of the citywide Zero-COVID strategy as a form of disease control. According to a body of international research led by professor Huaiping Zhu of York’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, while mass lockdowns did help contain the virus in the early days of the global health crisis, the fast-paced evolution of COVID-19 variants has made eradication of the disease a frustratingly elusive goal. A better approach is to learn how to live with the virus using a suite of sustainable and effective public health guidelines aimed at mitigating the contagion without permanently curtailing people’s freedoms.

“Countries that aimed for eliminating the cases of COVID-19 with citywide-test-trace-isolate (CTTI) policy are found to have lower infections, deaths, and better economic performance, compared with those that opted for other mitigation strategies,” says Zhu, who developed a computational model incorporating the CTTI Zero-COVID policy as a mathematical equation to understand how it contributes to SARS-CoV-2 elimination.

The study focused on China, where Zero-COVID had been, until civil unrest recently made it unsustainable, the main pandemic-control strategy. The investigation found that the CTTI policy showed a capacity for the eradication of the Delta variant outbreaks, as well as the Omicron outbreaks. Yet, the implementation of CTTI is challenging, as it requires routine monitoring for early detection, adequate testing capacity, efficient contact tracing, and high isolation compliance, which constrain its benefits in regions with limited resources.

These challenges become even more acute in the face of more contagious variants with a high proportion of asymptomatic cases, Zhu says. “In regions where CTTI is not possible, personal protection, public health control measures, and vaccination are indispensable for mitigating and exiting the COVID-19 pandemic.”  ■

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