ULBs will have to assume more responsibility in recovery phase

Cities are the worst affected by the spread of coronavirus. Over 90 per cent of total cases are from urban areas in India. This pandemic has reminded us that the coordinated action among cities and states is the only effective response in order to come out of the health crisis that has affected the economy and normal life badly

Cities in India and the world over are the worst victims of the coronavirus. The rapid spread of the virus in our cities has made us rethink the urban design of our cities.It seems cities are not pandemic resilient. This century has seen many deadly viruses including Sars, Mers, Ebola and now the coronavirus-the most infectious of all. Our mighty and modern cities could not safeguard us from the spread and on the contrary, they proved to be fertile grounds for spread of the virus.

As per the World Health Organisation figure, over 1,430 cities in 210 countries are affected by Covid-19 and over 95 % of total cases are in urban areas. The problem is compounded in cities because of the poor living conditions and density. It is to be noted that one billion people live in informal settlements and slums in overcrowded and inadequate housing facilities.

The spread of cholera, plague and typhoid in the past paved the way for creating the modern sewer systems in our cities which have improved sanitation in the last century. There are many learnings from this pandemic too. Cities have to be prepared to deal with infectious viruses and the urban local bodies will have to assume more responsibility in India. As of now, the buck stops with the district magistrate or collector in managing health emergencies like these. The elected representatives like mayors and councillors who have better local connect with the citizens have no administrative powers and financial resources to respond locally. This is the time city leaders must come forward and focus on strengthening their capacity and planning local actions more effectively.

Municipal response

Some cities are playing a proactive role by providing relevant information to their citizens and staff. One among them is Surat Municipal Corporation that has created a separate COVID dashboard linked to its existing website. They have made all information related to the virus available. The corporation is regularly updating the information like a daily update on fatalities, the number of cases (ward-wise, age-wise, gender-wise, etc.), helpline numbers, and government circulars. The corporation has also provided the link of the Integrated Government Online Training Platform (iGot) for helping frontline workers with various courses. iGOT platform has a training module for management of COVID-19 for the capacity building of frontline workers to handle the pandemic efficiently. According to the program details available, these courses are specifically designed for doctors, nurses, paramedics, hygiene workers, technicians, auxiliary nursing midwives (ANMs), state government officers, civil defenceofficers, various police organisations, National Cadet Corps (NCC), and other volunteers. The training contents of the course include basics of COVID, clinical management, ICU care management, infection prevention and care, usage of PPE, quarantine and isolation, training for NCC cadets, management of COVID 19 cases, laboratory sample collection and testing, psychological care of patients, pediatric care in COVID, pregnancy during COVID, etc.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has launched a website https://stopcoronavirus.mcgm.gov.in/ for providing all kind of information to the public. The corporation’s social media handles are also active and providing prompt information to people. Pune has also assisted in setting up 40 flu clinics in city hospitals apart from spreading awareness among citizens. Other corporations have also taken similar actions and are playing their roles well in mitigating the impact of the virus on normal life. Smart cities which have focused on developing of centralized data centres are also proving to be helpful in disseminating information. Lucknow Smart City has all the information related to the virus available on its website.

Learning for becoming pandemic resilient

But many other cities have responded poorly. There is a need for city leaders and senior municipal staff to learn from each other. Many big cities of India do not have any information available on their websites and this includes some of the state capitals too. Chief Ministers and district magistrates are in the leadership roles. Mayors will have to lead from the front.

Our cities and the city leaders have not seen such a pandemic in the past. It is unprecedented. The world has seen such a health crisis in the time of World War-I-Spanish Flu. There are many lessons which our cities can learn. The governments had issued similar guidelines and regulations for the people like we are seeing now such as lockdowns, compulsory wearing of masks and other sanitation protocols while travelling. According to The New York Times, during the pandemic, Boy Scouts in New York City approached people they’d seen spitting on the street and gave them cards that read: “You are in violation of the Sanitary Code.” Similarly, Delhi Metro has decided to increase the fine on spitting to Rs 1000.

We know that medical science was not at its peak during those days but it is important to note that the first licensed vaccine came after almost 20 years. We may be looking at six months or so for getting the vaccine but the cities will have to start their businesses and transport systems. This time is going to be crucial for cities to control the virus spread as the patterns of pandemics have shown that the second wave is imminent after relaxing of the lockdown and other measures taken by the governments. The cities which had controlled the spread with proper measures had almost one-tenth of fatalities than the cities which did not. Cities need to be well prepared until the vaccine is found, or until herd immunity is developed.

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