Leon Mika

Leon Mika

On Suppression vs. Elimination

It was around the beginning of June, when the number of new Covid-19 cases for Victoria were around 10-20 a day, that there was a general feeling that suppression was working and that it was time to begin opening up. I will admit I took advantage of the looser restrictions, but I always wondered whether it would be better to remain closed for a little while longer and go for elimination. This was not the official strategy though: we have testing and tracing up and running and as long as we know where the virus is, we can continue to roll-back restrictions and achieve some semblance of normalcy.

Fast-forward to today and the daily number of cases is higher than what it was back in March, Melbourne is back under Stage 3 restrictions and I’m shopping on-line for masks.

It seems obvious to me that suppression as a strategy may not be enough. We may eventually (hopefully) get the virus tamped down once more, but it’s still out there and our efforts to keep it at bay are only as strong as our weakest link.

I think it’s time we go for elimination. It won’t be easy, but there are three reasons why I reckon it’s worth a shot:

  • Most of the other states in the country have effectively achieved eliminated. Some of them have gone weeks without any new cases, and are cautiously in the process of opening up once again. However, this can only hold as long as the state borders remain close to Victorians (and possibly soon to the New South Welsh) and I don’t see these states willing throwing away their hard won achievement just because the official strategy is suppression. If Victoria (and NSW) go for elimination, we can meet the other states where they are, making it a no-brainer to open up interstate travel once again, not to mention the trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand.
  • It seems more economically stable over the long term. Economic activity is tied to confidence: people will only go out and spend money if they believe it’s safe to do so. Even when restrictions are rolled-back, I’m doubtful people will be quick to flock to cafes and gyms if there’s a risk of another wave. Compare this with elimination: evidence from New Zealand shows that consumer spending is pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels, despite going harder during the initial lock-down.
  • It may be a way to win back the public’s confidence in the government. The Victorian government has taken a hit in the polls due to the mistakes that caused the current round of lock-downs. I can see rallying the public around the goal of elimination a way to win them back. You can even use the current situation as a unique opportunity to achieve this, maybe by saying, “given that we’re already going through another round of lock-downs, let’s go for broke and remain locked down until we’ve eliminated this virus once and for all.” Now you have a something that people can work towards, and the feeling that their current sacrifice is not for nothing if (when?) another wave comes through.

I’m aware that this a post written by someone who is in a position of relative privilege. I haven’t lost my job, and I remain relatively healthy and financially secure. I also know that it will be expensive and will cause a fair bit more suffering for those with small businesses that will need to shut their doors. So I recognised that I don’t have all the facts, and this may not be feasible at all. But I also question the feasibility of maintaining a long-term suppression strategy until treatments or a vaccine become available: this is a tricky virus to handle.

In the end, I guess I’m just a bit disappointed by the lack of abition in attempting this as a goal. It seems advantageous, especially now, to seize the moment and go for making our second round of lock-downs our last.