Coronavirus has taught us a lot of new things. In addition to teaching us the significance of community hygiene, masks and social distancing, the virus has changed the way we go about our daily lives, especially professional lives. Online meetings, seminars, conferences, workshops and even political rallies have become a routine affair. And, even the in-house official meetings are being conducted online to maintain social distancing. The question is: how this digital transformation in our lives is going to impact the cities we live in
Government of India has been promoting e-governance, digital learning, use of online financial transactions, etc. to make administration and governance easily accessible, transparent and accountable. The pandemic has also changed the work culture and many corporate houses encouraged their employees to work from home. Work from Home culture has caught up in cities fast during the pandemic. Many small businesses who could manage their operations online, shut their offices in many locations to cut down their expenditure. Many corporate offices have made their working spaces safe by using some short-time design fixes and reducing the number of workers at a given time.
Many institutions and corporate houses had the experience of using digital tools earlier. They rebound faster after the pandemic struck because they already had capabilities, resources, tools, and systems to swiftly move to remote working, learning, collaborating.
The pandemic and lockdown measures have resulted in the cancellation of many international events. Some of them have gone virtual. AIILSG has also started a series of webinars on urban issues. The institute has also gone digital in imparting trainings to students and other stakeholders. We will continue to host such webinars and workshops for benefitting urban local bodies, city leaders and other stakeholders. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs is also working to introduce new projects and programs virtually. The most recent one was the Climate-Smart Cities Programme.
The world has not come to a standstill. Thanks to technological innovations which have helped us stay hopeful and active in finding a way through this crisis.
The flip side of the story is that if this situation sustains, it is going to affect the real estate business in large cities. Another question is that if virtual meetings and working can completely replace our physical offices. There has been some discussion on this but I don’t believe so because human beings yearn for socializing. I am quite sure that our offices and streets will be abuzz like before as soon as the world finds a vaccine. This has happened in the past during the Spanish flu in the early 20th century. This is for sure that people will be more cautious about sanitization going forward.
Technology and COVID-19
The countries which have been successful in containing the spread of the contagion used digital tools in pandemic management and response effectively. Cities used technology in planning, surveillance, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and health care. How did India use digital technology in pandemic management? Most of the telecom operators used their caller tunes to spread awareness on precautions, social distancing, etc. The Government of India also launched the Aarogya Setu app for informing people if they have come in contact with infected persons. People can also know how many people in their vicinity are COVID positive or unwell.
Many states in India like Karnataka and Kerala used technology effectively for contact tracing. The WHO has also appreciated the efforts of Karnataka. One of its reports says, “The state-of-art control room was set up in record time of 24 hours in Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) corporation body in early March, with facilities like 24/7 control and command centre; virtual training and video conferencing facilities; GIS mapping of cases and contacts; heat mapping technology for containment zone and cluster; immersive technology for large data management of contact tracing and quarantine; real-time tracking of ambulance services and disinfection procedures; production and dissemination of IEC; and daily media bulletins. While the BBMP war room focused on the response in Bangalore, similar control rooms were established for crisis management throughout the state.”
The need to track COVID-19 has fuelled the innovation of data dashboards that visually display disease burden. UpCode uses data provided by the Singapore Ministry of Health to depict infection trends across age, sex, and location, and to plot the recovery time of infected individuals. The Johns Hopkins University (MD, USA) coronavirus dashboard and the web-based platform HealthMap provide up-to-date visuals of COVID-19 cases and deaths around the globe
The state, where the software capital of the world Bengaluru is situated, has launched many applications including Seva Sindhu Portal for issuing e-passes, Corona Watch for tracking movement of Corona patients, Apthamitra Helpline for assisting COVID patients and many mobile applications. Similarly, other states have launched many technological tools for effective pandemic management. This is a good start if the municipalities and the state government can come forward in initiative innovative approaches in dealing with a crisis situation. This trend shall continue going forward.
Other countries have also used technology for mitigation and response to the contagion. According to a report published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet, Big data and artificial intelligence (AI) have helped facilitate COVID-19 preparedness and the tracking of people, and so the spread of infection, in several countries. Tools such as migration maps, which use mobile phones, mobile payment applications, and social media to collect real-time data on the location of people, allowed Chinese authorities to track the movement of people who had visited the Wuhan market, the pandemic’s epicentre. In Sweden, authorities have developed a platform for health-care workers to report real-time data on volumes of patients with COVID-19, personal protective equipment, staffing, ventilator usage, and other resource information. This information has been shared nationwide with health-care authorities to track the status of facilities, allocate health-care resources, and increase hospital bed capacity.
The need to track COVID-19 has fuelled the innovation of data dashboards that visually display disease burden. UpCode uses data provided by the Singapore Ministry of Health to depict infection trends across age, sex, and location, and to plot the recovery time of infected individuals. The Johns Hopkins University (MD, USA) coronavirus dashboard and the web-based platform HealthMap provide up-to-date visuals of COVID-19 cases and deaths around the globe. AI algorithms allow the effect of the climate to be incorporated into the projections.
The use of technology in urban systems for community hygiene, social distancing and health care will see a rise. All the cities must be prepared and capacitated to use this occasion to transform their working style for efficiently managing urban spaces.