Cities have donned a novel appearance that none of us has ever seen. We wish we need not see it ever again. COVID-19 has claimed over 150, 000 lives, infected over 2,200,000 people, and affected almost everyone on the planet in one way or the other. Cities may be the worst affected but our urban institutions are also giving a glimmer of hope to humanity in this fight against COVID-19
As the mighty cities of the world attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, the most populated cities and their most buzzing and happening places are practically empty. You hardly find anyone whether it is Connaught Place in New Delhi, Marine Drive in Mumbai, Times Square in New York, Champ De Mars in Paris or the Duomo in Milan. These are some of the most bustling sites which in normal days always remain filled with thousands of people and cars. Now, they wear a deserted look. The situation is similar in other smaller cities and towns world over. Cities which were once filled with all kinds of noises from traffic and people have now fallen silent. Cities have become so desolate that you can just hear the distant wailing of an ambulance or the siren of a police vehicle occasionally. There is hardly anyone in sight on once the busiest streets. The governments in many countries have announced stringent measures such as lockdown and curfew. Schools, offices, shops, factories, restaurants are shut. Exams have been postponed or cancelled. There is a strict ban on movement of people unless approved for providing essential services to citizens. The norms for social distancing have been announced. People are indoors, economic activities are at a halt. This situation is not the same for all. The daily wagers, migrant labourers are the worst affected. Those very people who built these cities’ skyscrapers and signature landmarks are today struggling to find a roof over their head and to survive. They want to go back to their small villages because the economic machine that was supporting them has come to a halt. Yet municipal corporations which provide essential services like sanitation are still running. Sanitation workers along with the medical staff are playing a significant role in the fight against coronavirus. Municipalities worldwide are disinfecting streets and potential hotspots of the virus spread. They are ensuring people do not face any difficulty in their day-to-day lives when they are at home in lockdown.
Cities: Epicenter of hope and despair
Cities in all the nations have concentrated populations and that is why the virus has the potential to spread rapidly in cities. Take the case of New York City (please mark not New York state), the city alone lost 8893 lives that is almost 26 per cent of total deaths in the United States of America (33,082). Back in India, Mumbai has reported 117 deaths out of 480 deaths in India. It is almost 25 per cent of the national figure. Pune and Indore follow with 52 and 50 unfortunate deaths. Delhi comes fourth with 42 reported deaths. (this data is taken till April 18, 2020). Other major affected cities which have reported deaths in double digits are Ahmedabad (35), Hyderabad (12), Surat (10), and Thane (10). The first four cities—Mumbai, Pune, Indore and Delhi—account for almost 55 per cent reported deaths in India. According to an analysis published in The Hindu newspaper, the share of COVID-19 cases in Mumbai is higher in more densely populated wards. Close to 54 per cent of cases are from wards which have a population density of more than 35,000 people per sq km. It is also to be noted that Maharashtra that is the worst affected state has as many as 43 of the 100 most populated urban wards ofIndia. Among the biggest slums of Asia, Dharavi in Mumbai is also badly affected. The slum that is built on 2.1 sq km of area in Greater Mumbai spanning 603 sq km has reported 160 cases and 10 deaths so far. The figures are worrisome.
Cities, inequalities and disasters
The pandemic has hit everyone, the rich and the poor. Its impact on citizens’ lives is not the same. The poor are more vulnerable to the disease and its associated challenges. The ‘balcony class’ or the middle and upper-middle class in metro cities of India is far more protected than those living in slums. They are working from homes and getting salaries. They can get a daily supply of ration, vegetables and medicines home-delivered. They are following the norms of social distancing well and maintain the strict routine of washing hands regularly. In slums, people are sharing public services like that of sanitation services including toilets, water supply and also housing facilities where five to ten people share a 100 sq feet room and go to sleep after stacking and pushing their stuff of daily-use to the walls. When there is need to wash hands regularly, they have a problem here too. The summer is on and the problem of limited water supply is staring them in the face. However, there is no such report of water scarcity but that is the routine problem for many and does not necessarily hit the headlines. If you get a chance to go to a congested slum, the challenges of maintaining social distancing and hygiene abound. Still, people are taking all measures to keep themselves and their dear ones safe. Many of these people do not have the luxury of working from home. They earn their daily bread by driving an auto or working in a construction site and get paid at the end of the day. When the economic activity is halted, the daily wagers are in trouble. Hundreds of thousands of people are far from their homes stranded and without any daily earning to feed themselves. Perhaps that is why we have seen the sea of people in Mumbai’s Bandra and Delhi’s Anand Vihar. These were the people who wanted to go back to their villages and the places where they came from. Some managed to cross the city borders while others were sent back. There is a need to relook at how we build cities equal for all.
Glimmer of hope
There are some cities like Agra (Uttar Pradesh), Bhilwara (Rajasthan), Pathanamthitta (Kerala) that came with successful models of containing the spread of coronavirus. Pathanamthitta prepared the list of people who came into the district and created a route map for contact tracing. They also asked the people to report themselves if they have come in contact with the suspected carriers. In Agra, when the first case was reported, it was observed that the virus had been transmitted to six people. The district administration and Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme personnel sealed the area with a radius of 3 km in Lohamandi. The intensive operation of tracing 1,65,000 households was performed by 1248 teams. They also earmarked hotspots. According to the official sources, the areas within 3 km radius were termed as the epicentre, the area with 5 km of the radius was identified as a buffer zone. The contact tracing was thoroughly mapped and eventually 9.3 lakh people were screened. The model can be termed crucial because it dealt with high density areas and turned out to be effective to curb community transmission. Bhilwara sealed its border and put a complete ban on the movement of people. The essentials were home delivered. All the public places were continuously disinfected. The administration also carried out household surveys for screening and finding symptomatic patients. According to news reports, approximately 200, 000 households were surveyed in which 4200 people were identified with influenza-like symptoms. Similarly, Odisha state government has also made some announcements and given special powers to head of local governments in rural areas. Chief Minister of the State Naveen Patnaik gave powers of a district collector to all the Sarpanch (elected head of a village). They screened every one coming from outside and quarantined them. Odisha is among the few states which have contained the spread of the virus and have reported one unfortunate death until writing this article. City leaders in global cities are also coming together and underlining their
priorities with their learning from the pandemic. The mayors of Spain’s seven largest cities–Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Valencia, Zaragoza, Málaga and Murcia–have issued a joint declaration saying, “We are in the front line of the pandemic and are taking an active part in the fight against the virus and its consequences.” New York Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that the city will spend 3.5 Billion dollars this yearon saving people’s lives. Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan, the first big European city to be locked down to slow the spread of coronavirus, has rejected the proposal of the Governor of Lombardy, Attilio Fontana on lifting the lockdown and reopening economic activities. He has kept saving lives of people his priority. But in Indian cities, the role of city leaders is not prominent and is limited. This is saddening to see that they have not been actively engaged. This is one aspect that needs deliberations for strengthening local response with decisiveness in disastrous times.
What the future holds
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that it’s likely large gatherings won’t return until 2021. This seems true for all cities across the globe. People would like to remain isolated and would avoid going to shopping malls, cineplexes, concerts, conferences and any sports event. The question that everyone is asking is when can we go out again? We all hope; the epidemic will soon be on the wane. We will be back to work in our offices. Scientists will find the vaccine. Cities will be abuzz with activities. We will shake hands and embrace each other again. But the lessons from this pandemic shall not be ignored and forgotten.
All You Need to Know about the Pandemic
There are many verified and unverified reports available on the novel coronavirus, its type and treatment. Such information has created confusion and worries among people. So we have decided to seek details from the most authentic source on the topic-World Health Organisation (WHO).
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
What is COVID-19?
The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who get COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.
How does COVID-19 spread?
People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick.