Cities drive economic growth. But with COVID-19 the economic engines are in danger. When it comes to disease upsurge, cities are a big part of the issue. Today, approximately 4 billion people live in cities, which is roughly over half of the world's population. It is not just global cities that are a risk of COVID-19, but also secondary cities and relatively smaller urban hubs as well. Cities also play a central role in preparing for mitigating and adapting to pandemics. While the worst-hit countries are Western Europe and the US, the numbers even in the Asian cities are increasing day-by-day.
Whether a government locks down a city or minimises its pace by strict rules, the outcome is 'financial disaster'. Cities need to act fast and use its resources well to stem the pandemic so that they can go back to moving the economic engine.
Not surprisingly, cities with robust governance and health infrastructure in place are in a better position to manage pandemics and lower case fatality rates (CFR) and excess mortality than those that do not. Adopting a combination of proactive surveillance, routine communication, rapid isolation and personal and community protection (e.g. social distancing) measures is critical.
Smart Cities Council India and Construction World conducted a webinar on 'COVID19: Lessons from Asian cities' to know Asian cities are coping with COVID-19. The webinar began with presenter Pratap Padode, Founder and Director, Smart Cities Council India, and Editor-in-Chief, Construction World, welcoming the guest panellists to the session. Rajendra Bhatt, IAS, District Magistrate, Bhilwara, Rajasthan, gave a special address during the session. The panellists included – Kok-Chin Tay (KC), Chairman, Smart Cities Network; Vikash Chandra, Smart City & PPP Expert, Smart Cities Mission; Manojit Bose, Smart City Expert, Smart City Pune; Yudhistira Nugraha, Head, Jakarta Smart City Office; Dr. Sunil Dubey, Adjunct Faculty-University of Sydney, Institutional Advisor-Urban Innovation & Smart Cities, The University of Sydney.
Singapore is known to be among the primary movers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of controlling and being organised with the people. The residents are also very adhering. Says Kok-Chin Tay (KC), Chairman, Smart Cities Network,There are some lessons that Singapore has written to the Journal of Travel Medicine in which it has outlined the six main measures of communication, the policies and the enforcement measures. From January this year, when we were alerted by COVID, which originated in China, Singapore was one of the first few to take measures in different areas. We set up a multi-ministry task force to tackle health issues with COVID. We then have measures including border controls to ensure people who enter into Singapore are sort of put into quarantine. We have healthcare measures that allow 800 public health preparedness clinics to do the testing. Our Prime Minister has now announced an extension of what we call the Circuit Breaker. The fatality rate in Singapore is now only 12. So, are putting in measures to ensure that community spread is contained and almost half a million of foreign workers are put into a total lockdown. The lockdown is until June 1. We have mostly only very essential services operating like the banks and key food services and supermarkets open.
Mumbai and Pune have been among the most critical hotspots affected by the COVID-19 in India. Tells us Manojit Bose, Smart City Expert, Smart City Pune, “In Pune, the number of cases has reached around 780+, and a lot of measures are being taken by the district administration as well as by the smart city special purpose vehicle. One of the things done is that the Command and Control Centre, which was set up as part of the Smart Cities mission, is being used as a war rule. Also, with GIS, we are tracking not only patients but also quarantine cases through community surveillance, variable messaging devices, public address systems, etc. Community awareness within the people is being extensively created; we have also developed a mobile app for tracking home quarantine citizens and it is being used quite extensively. There is a mobile dispensary which has been pressed into service. A lot of flu clinics are being set up and have been operationalised to at least provide an initial check for people who may be suspected of having some flu symptoms. If there is any further requirement, people are diverted to hospitals and other places.
Indonesia is notably still maintaining a decent level in terms of controlling the spread of the pandemic. Briefly talking about data monitoring on the COVID-19 cases at the national level and in Jakarta, Yudhistira Nugraha, Head, Jakarta Smart City Office, tells us, “We now have more than 7,000 confirmed cases including incentive care recovery cases at the national level, and more than 3,000-3,500 cases in Jakarta. To mitigate the COVID-19, Jakarta has now established a large scale or semi lockdown restriction. This policy is carried out in coordination with the Central Government regulation through the Ministry of Health. So through this policy, the Jakarta Government has limited activities of citizen by implementing work-from-home and also learning-from-home. While there are many cases showing up in Jakarta, having said that, there is also a limitation of the cases. At the national level, we have also created an application for contacts tracing.
In Sydney, the graph curves are certainly flattening as of now. Tells us Dr. Sunil Dubey, Adjunct Faculty-University of Sydney, Institutional Advisor-Urban Innovation & Smart Cities, The University of Sydney,“Sydney is relatively very small in population. The entire state has only about 7.5 million, people which is probably not even 1/4th of some of the cities. By and large, we have about 5.2 million people in the greatest Sydney. So, our cities are relatively small. As of today, we have got about 2,976 confirmed COVID cases. This is quite a low level of confirmed cases. And, we have so far tested about 178,000 people in the city or the greater Sydney area and our numbers as for the loss of human lives is at about 33 as of now. Our biggest concern is how we contain the activities so that we can prolong the flattening of the curve for a much longer period of time. We are comfortable to say that we are managing the situation of 2,976. We haven't locked down in a very hard way unlike European cities. We still have a relative economic and business freedom to do things, so we have an advantage there because of the lower population.”
India’s smart cities using technology to tackle COVID
In India, around April 13, we had around 10,450 confirmed cases. And now, we are at around 21,000. So we have doubled in about 10 days. Says Vikash Chandra, Smart City & PPP Expert, Smart Cities Mission,“We have kind of been able to slow down the infection; we are still not in a war-like situation. In India, there are 100 cities selected under the government’s Smart Cities mission, and for the last five years they have been having regular interactions and have become more proactive in the use of technology. There are about 45 Command and Control Centres operational in this country and each of them actually rose to this occasion and to the challenges present in the country. Each of these have become war rules and are helping in mapping confirmed cases, their contacts, their journey, the number of people they could have infected, wards for quarantine, etc. So, cities have risen to this situation and are using technology in helping people.”
The Bhilwara model
Rajendra Bhatt, IAS, District Magistrate, Bhilwara, Rajasthan, takes us through the Bhilwara model...
“Bhilwara is a small city in Rajasthan, India, with a population of less than 3 million or 2,728 lakh. We first realised that two doctors of a leading renowned hospital, who were seeing nearly 7,000 patients in the hospital and 3,000 or more patients at home, were infected. What we did is tried to contain or stop a community spread. Systematically, this included six steps. First was to ensure nobody goes out of Bhilwara and spread it elsewhere, and nobody should come into Bhilwara and get infected. So, first thing was to seal the border and isolate the district. While the cases kept increasing, a curfew was imposed in two phases. The first one allowed essential services like small convenience stores, medicine shops, etc, to be open, while the second phase was a total shutdown. We closed everything and everything was provided to the people of the city through home delivery. We sealed the city so that nobody from the city could enter the rural areas and vice versa.
I then also write to the railways and roadways to stop services. And this was followed much before the lockdown in India was announced. We then had 1,950 rural teams constituted who were serving door-to-door by collecting samples for testing from door-to-door. We have 1,910 villages in Bhilwara and 1,950 teams were made; these teams constituted of three members each. They would go to homes and check on the travel history and health history of citizens. We had around 6,000 such people identified and since screening all of them were not possible we had them all home quarantined. These people had to report regularly at the sub-division level.
Taking several such measures, what we saw is: In the first 14 days, we were expecting nearly 100- 150 patients and in the next 14 days, nearly 500 and in the next 14 days nearly more than 1,000-2,000 cases. But, we were able to contain them from 26 in the first seven days to 33 until now. So as of now, we have only one case positive in the last 14 days. So we worked in this manner with a ruthless containment strategy and mapping of thoughts.”
Besides, there are a lot of technological innovations being done by start-ups in India. There is Artificial Intelligence-based monitoring of people via real-time alerts to see if they are wearing masks or using thermal cameras to see if there are any health risks. Then there are drone-based solutions which support police and urban local bodies for effective and efficient management and at a time 3,250 drones can be deployed at any given location and it can send accurate image back to the ground station that can help the police take stock of the situation. Then there are also contactless wireless thermal sensors and images that measure the temperature data of individuals, even a group of crowd, and through a drone you can actually work out the thermal monitor. Then there are also wireless technologies which will minimise the exposure to healthcare workers.
For this and much more on how cities are coping with COVID-19, watch the full video.
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