【FOCUS】Fight Against COVID-19, Remain City Resilient

Under the impact of COVID-19 since 2019, cities worldwide managed to maintain resilient in innovative ways. In response to the pandemic, many cities and regions have strengthened the construction of software and hardware through innovation, coordination, and cooperation, and enhanced citizen participation which contributes valuable urban strength to combating the outbreak. This week's In Focus introduces six initiatives of how cities are effectively fighting COVID-19 and improving their governance capabilities, and how they are building strong defences to ensure people's safety and health.

Cuenca, Ecuador

"Mi Barrio": Innovative and Replicable Digital Platform 

The COVID-19 health crisis has disrupted the life of many, including the 610,000 residents in the Ecuadorian city of Cuenca. One of the difficulties is to advertise and purchase products. To ensure a continuous supply of goods while reducing the risk of infection, Cuenca launched the initiative of Mi Barrio platform.

Mi Barrio is part of the municipality's Emergency Action Plan in the face of the pandemic. This initiative represents a public partnership between municipal companies company and government agencies in planning, distribution, technology, and social communication. It allows SMEs, merchant associations, artisans, markets, etc., to register and advertise themselves on the map so that users can see at a glance, the types of products and services, distances, and whether home delivery is available. For those who were not used to such technology, a digital education plan that included virtual sessions was also implemented. 

Based on its earlier success, the city is transcending the initiative from an economic-social vision to a holistic view. It is developing new initiatives such as e-commerce for SMEs and virtual spaces for the sharing of goods and services. It is also incorporating other municipal strategies such as sustainable mobility, urban planning, municipal services, tourism and culture. Mi Barrio contributes to economic and social recovery and facilitates close and effective social mobility in the epidemic and post-epidemic era.

Milan, Italy

Tackling Food Insecurity at Urban Level during COVID-19: Harnessing Public-Private Partnerships to Scale up Response Efforts

In early 2020, Milan was among the world's hardest hit areas by the COVID-19 pandemic. Containment measures, coupled with the closure of many non-profit organisations and charities in food collection and distribution, sparked a food crisis for its 1.4 million residents. The dire situation called for immediate actions to improve food security.

The city's response was a coordinated and multi-stakeholder Food Aid System. It converted 10 Local Hubs against Food Waste across the city into temporary food hubs, where food could be stored and redistributed to residents in need. 

The city also launched a fundraising campaign together with non-profit organisations. The private sector donated money and supplies, while the municipality-owned companies provided expertise, facilities, and equipment. For instance, the municipal mobility agency developed a plan for optimising the delivery routes of food aid packages, which included staples such as pasta, rice, tomato sauce, legumes, biscuits, oil, salt, and sugar as well as milk, fruit juices, coffee. These food packages were collected and delivered by food banks and charities such as the Milan Red Cross on a weekly basis to people in need, notably the elderly and other vulnerable groups.

When the emergency was over and the associations and charities restarted operation, the temporary hubs were reverted to the food waste hubs. During the operation of the temporary food hubs, Milan provided food support to more than 6,000 families and over 20,000 people. This initiative engaged more than 30 partners and has paved the way for strengthened collaboration between the public, private, and civil society sectors.

Seoul, Republic of Korea

Health Strategy for Vulnerable Groups amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

As most of the existing public health service for COVID-19 in Seoul are on-site contact-based, access of vulnerable groups (seniors, low-income and single-parent households, people with disabilities, and immigrant families) to healthcare services and resources has been restricted, thus heightening their health risks especially for those with chronic diseases. To response to these challenges, the city embarked on an overhaul of its healthcare system to ensure the delivery of effective and contactless services for the vulnerable groups as well as the containment of COVID-19 in the region.

In areas under more emergency situations, the city proactively identified all individuals requiring intensive care and monitoring, tested them for COVID-19, and provided them with health support kits and psychological care. The city also adopted a customisation approach by categorising the populations in its 25 districts to provide more targeted healthcare services, resources, and interventions. In addition, an ordinance was amended based on evaluation and feedback so that the local communities were equipped with a proportionate number of public health workers. The city also worked with local health activists and leaders to maintain effective local care networks.

Through these efforts, Seoul had managed to keep a low death rate of COVID-19, with a fatality rate of 0.71% by September 2020.

Suwon, Republic of Korea

Suwon City's COVID-19 Response Policies and Performance: Protecting Citizens from Infectious Disease

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Suwon, a city of the South Korean started an epidemiological investigation. Suwon invited various stakeholders and associations related to multi-use facilities in the area to participate in the recording of visitor data to support the investigation. The results were disseminated by the city via social media and then a dashboard, which displayed information on the status of confirmed cases, registration for COVID-19 alert messages, transportation support for international travellers flying from abroad, contact numbers for inquiries, and a link to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The city also partnered with neighbouring cities to prevent the omission of information about confirmed cases.

What is more, the city provided its residents with various support, delivering masks, sanitisers, and disinfectants. It also signed agreements with different firms to secure job stability for employees while the pandemic. It froze or reduced rents of shared properties for small business owners and the self-employed. For people returning from abroad, it provided hotel accommodation at a discount of up to 70%, to reduce infection of family members. The city has also taken efforts to record its coronavirus response, hoping to help other cities combat the virus. And much effort was also made by its residents, volunteers, associations, social enterprises, and high schools. 

Union of Dannieh Municipalities, Lebano (Winner of the 5th Guangzhou Award)

Engaging the Citizen to Be Part of the Emergency Response Plan to Fight Against COVID-19

Dannieh, although rich in its resources, was lack of funding due to the economic crisis. Under this circumstance, the Union of Dannieh Municipalities relied the most on government funding, whose suspension has influenced the Union and hindered the it from effectively responding to the pandemic. In response to the situation, the Union of Dannieh Municipalities, cooperating with the Citizen Social Organizations (CSOs), has established an Emergency Response Plan consisting of 15 youth volunteer committees. This plan encourages citizens, especially young people, to participate in governance, which alleviates labour and fund shortage problems during the pandemic.

This initiative relies on technology like shared folders, zoom meetings and WhatsApp groups, which have helped facilitate communication between committees inside the cell and among individuals. By combining multimedia technology and traditional means, this initiative quickly and effectively connects the municipal staff, other municipalities under its umbrella, the 15 committees, citizens, and the community. What is more, it encourages citizens to be more active and involved in the project, contributing their wisdom and skills to fight against the pandemic.

Chongqing, China (Winner of the 5th Guangzhou Award)

Emergency Solutions to the Pandemic Challenge for Urban Medical Wastes Disposal

The Chongqing Municipal Ecological Environmental Bureau adopted an innovative "3-Level Emergency Mechanism" in response to growing urban medical wastes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mechanism, combining novel technology to deal with urban medical waste and strict supervision for hospitals, were implemented to ensure effective regulation and disposal of medical wastes, thus preventing secondary infection and virus spread. Chongqing also helped Wuhan construct and operate an emergency disposal centre for medical wastes of COVID-19 to dispose medical wastes mainly from the Lei-Shen-Shan Hospital and Huo-Shen-Shan Hospital , as well as other hospitals in Wuhan. 

The initiative provides an innovative collaboration model based on a clear division of responsibilities, thus enabling quick emergency responses. It provides innovative emergency solutions to the disposal of urban medical waste, improves urban safety resilience under the pandemic, and alerts other cities in the world about the importance of medical waste disposal in controlling the spread of disease.