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April 6, 2020

The lessons of COVID-19: What should be done in future?

National

April 6, 2020

The world is still in the grip of COVID-19 but it appears to be peaking and social scientists have started looking at life after COVID-19. As we continue to fight the rapid spread of coronavirus, confining many people to their homes and radically altering the way we move through, work in and think about our cities, some are wondering which of these adjustments will endure beyond the end of the pandemic, and what life might look like on the other side.

People have borne continued lockdown, food shortages, acute scarcity of protective gear like surgical masks, hand sanitizers, bodysuits for medical and healthcare professionals and lack of hospitals. Planners, governments and responsible organizations are examining how to prepare for life ahead, take decisions to avoid repeating mistakes. Adversity at times brings out the best in humanity.

In the future, there will be a renewed focus on finding design solutions for individual buildings and wider neighbourhoods that enable people to socialize without being packed “sardine-like” into compressed restaurants, mosques, shopping malls and hospitals. One thing is certain that town planners will rethink of trading off the construction of hotels, highways and other ambitious projects with building more hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Muslim countries must have seen the adverse effects of lining the mosques with thick carpets, which are breeding grounds for germs and viruses and replacing them with bare floors, which can be washed, disinfected and cleaned regularly. Ablution areas and public lavatories adjacent to mosques require better hygienic conditions while the placement of shoes in proper stacking needs to be revisited.

The US had learnt from its blunders committed by FEMA in the wake of hurricane Katrina and disaster management saw vast improvements but countries like Pakistan saw the NDMA struggling and in the aftermath of COVID-19, it will need to be reorganized to handle disasters of the magnitude of severe pandemics.

A number of lessons can be learnt from China, which suffered from the initial onslaught but instead of reeling from its impact, its leadership girded its loins and turned the challenge into opportunity. Constructing temporary hospitals in a week, establishing mass quarantine centers, revitalizing the manufacturing facilities to produce ventilators, testing kits and protective gears, set the bar very high for other countries to follow. The positive aspect for other countries was that China was willing to share its experiences, provide healthcare and protection gear along with the much-required ventilators. Chinese medical experts braved the pandemic to personally visit high risk locations in Italy, other European locations, South America and Asia. China rolled out the “Health Silk Road” to the rest of the world.

Chinese “smart cities” like Songdo, Shenzhen and Yinchuan appeared to be better prepared to combat the fierce onslaught of COVID-19. Telemedicine, videos of drones to screen and test residents of high-rise buildings with suspected patients standing in their balconies was a breath-taking view. If smart cities are a safer bet from the health perspective, it is a solution for the more opulent nations who can dedicate greater efforts to digitally capture and record human behaviour in urban areas but invite fiercer debates over the power such surveillance hands to corporations and states.

It was learnt the hard way that there is a dearth of obtaining reliable data to track the number of infections, casualties and recoveries. In China, authorities enlisted the help of tech firms such as Alibaba and Tencent to track the spread of Covid-19 and are using “big data” analysis to anticipate where transmission clusters will emerge next.

COVID-19 brought out the best in humanity and the sudden proliferation of mutual aid groups – designed to provide community support for the most vulnerable during isolation – which has brought neighbours together across age groups and demographic divides. Social distancing has, ironically, drawn some of us closer than ever before. Whether such groups survive beyond the end of coronavirus to have a meaningful impact on our urban future depends, in part, on what sort of political lessons we learn from the crisis.

We saw people resorting to hoarding, black-market operators raising the prices of items like hand sanitizers, face masks and toilet paper rolls to make quick profit and accrue benefit from people’s suffering.

A potential impact of coronavirus may be an intensification of digital infrastructure in urban areas. South Korea, one of the countries worst-affected by the disease, has also posted some of the lowest mortality rates, an achievement that can be traced in part to a series of technological innovations – including, controversially, the mapping and publication of infected patients’ movements.

Work from home led to bonding within families as well as sporadic use of brute force against children and siblings out of sheer frustration.

Educational institutions have devised ways to engage students during the lockdown online. In Pakistan, the education ministry signed an agreement with Pakistan Television to launch a TV channel — Tele School — as an alternative to educational content delivery mechanism during closure of educational institution in the wake of coronavirus. PTV would provide eight-hour airtime to promote education through the channel.

It is important that parents and educational institutions carry on the system of educating children to become more responsible citizens, conscious of hygiene and inculcating values like the caring for their fellow beings not only in the face of a tribulation but also in normal life.