These emergencies call for collective action

luxury cruise liners were quarantined some days ago, one in Hong Kong and another near the Yokohama port in Japan, both on account of possible infection of persons on board by the dreaded novel coronavirus. This newest attack being described by some as a world health emergency has galvanised governments – national, regional, and local, and multilateral agencies all over the globe to counter the threat. The World Health Organization is putting out daily updates on its website about the outbreak which was first reported from Wuhan in China. It says, ‘WHO is working closely with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on this new virus, to track the spread and virulence of the virus, and to provide advice to countries and individuals on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of this outbreak’. With the total number of affected in the tens of thousands, and deaths over 750 as per last reports, the outbreak is a likely major global tragedy. While its most severe effects are still within China, countries everywhere are on high alert. The international community is marshalling all resources at its command – scientists, the medical fraternity and research institutions – in their efforts. In their race against time, new tools such as artificial intelligence and data analytics are helping authorities track persons who may have travelled to affected places or with affected persons and thus assess risks. Local governments have a challenging task on their hands. Public health is a key function in their portfolio which becomes particularly crucial at such times. In many instances, they run the hospitals which handle communicable diseases and have isolation wards and other facilities. These need to be kept at high alert, in a state of full readiness. In addition, there may be need to set up special quarantine facilities as has been done around the national capital. Local governments are already undertaking surveillance and screening of persons from affected areas, and isolation where required. All this calls for extensive coordination among all stakeholders – elected representatives, officials, NGOs, corporates, and indeed the community. Full awareness, alertness, and agility on the part of all concerned will guard the community against the virus. Local governments can ensure this; the effort being to identify possible affected persons and potential carriers of the virus and thereby prevent its spread. This needs to be done in a humane and caring manner. As in past instances like the SARS epidemic, collective efforts of the international community, national, regional and sub-regional governments, and the common man, will help contain this outbreak and prevent further loss of lives. One prays that it will happen at the earliest. Among other incidents of global concern are the raging bushfires in Australia coming on the heels of the forest fires in the Amazon Basin. These destructive wildfires, continents apart, have razed down millions of hectares of land including precious forest cover. These are bound to have far-reaching effects on the already precarious climate issue and will serve as a wakeup call for authorities for action to prevent recurrence and to protect forests. In this issue of Urban Update we carry an article on this subject.

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