With increasing COVID-19 cases, the metro cities are losing their lustre. Many outstation workers, especially those in worst-affected cities, have gone back to their home towns and are finding avenues locally to avoid the hassles of living in a metro. Some cities have fought back strongly and graduated towards a normal life. This article tries to analyze the ground reality in worst-affected cities and also in the cities which have done fairly well in the fight against the virus
The pandemic has changed the way city functions. There is a new rule every other day from the local administration. On one day, market places are open. Another day, there is a relaxation on the movement of people. And, if the number of cases spiked, all relaxations are withdrawn. People have to search the internet to know what is open or closed on a given day in a city.
Urbanists are optimistic that cities will bounce back first and fast when the vaccine is available and everything will be like before. The streets will be abuzz with vehicles and people, trains and metros will be jam-packed again, and the economic engine will rev louder than before. The pandemic is also a reminder to rethink density, urban design, housing, social welfare programs and many urban policy issues. The transformation of cities will be a two-way process. On one side, policymakers will improve the facilities in the cities to utilize the economy of scale and on the other, the work in cities will also see a change. Many technology companies including Twitter and Facebook have already announced that they are in the process of changing their work culture by shifting largely to work from home.
Health facilities and sanitation facilities will also see a change. Cities will have to be prepared to improve their health facilities if they want to remain the hub of economic activities. Health infrastructure cannot be put on the back burner.
We all know that cities have emerged stronger after such pandemics and crises but at present, cities are on their knees. For the last one month in India, Delhi and Mumbai have been in a close race that no one wanted to win. That was of a maximum number of positive cases. Now, Delhi, the national capital, has beaten the economic capital by a huge margin. Delhi stands at 130, 000 cases with the death toll of approximately 3800. While the cases in Mumbai could be lesser at 109,000 but its death toll figure surpasses that of Delhi with 6000 reported deaths. Chennai is no better with 94000 cases and 2000 deaths but the death rate is far lower than the top two cities. The city has reported the majority of cases (over 45%) from Tamil Nadu.
There are a couple of cities which have improved their performance by losing the race of worst-affected cities. The central government has lauded the efforts of the Karnataka Government for using technology in tracking and tracing the cases. According to the media reports, technological interventions like the Seva Sindhu portal, Quarantine Watch and Apthamitra apps were hailed by the Centre as much as physical initiatives like physical and phone-based household survey which has covered more than 1.5 crore households, mobile squads for enforcement of home quarantine through community participation and field visits by ASHA workers. Indore and Jaipur have performed well in containing the spread of the virus. Both the cities conducted aggressively house-to-house surveys and contact tracing. While Indore had formed special patrolling teams for by-lanes, Jaipur had limited groceries or vegetable vendors in different localities to curb the potential super spreaders. Chennai city has been lauded for keeping the mortality rate below 1 per cent despite having reported a large number of cases. All these cases should be analysed and their learnings be circulated among administrations across the country to strengthen the fight against the virus.
There is a need to prepare a knowledge-sharing portal where each municipality or city administration can list its learning and innovative techniques of dealing with the pandemic. The city leaders and officials should also be enabled to raise their queries on a given problem to get a response from the cities that have already faced and solved a similar issue. Indian cities and local governments will have to unite and fight together to win the battle against the virus.