Archer: Lock down West Kingston

Archer: Lock down West Kingston

Senior staff reporter

Monday, June 29, 2020

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With reports that several cases of the novel coronavirus have been discovered in the West Kingston community, which neighbours the teeming downtown Kingston market district, one urban planner wants the area shut down.

Professor Carol Archer, international consultant and former dean of the Faculty of Built Environment at the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica, is prescribing an approach similar to that used by Chinese officials to stem a second wave of infections earlier this month.

Beijing's 55-day run without any locally transmitted COVID-19 cases screeched to a standstill on June 11 after a second wave of infections was traced to a wholesale market in Beijing, causing Chinese authorities to leap into action to reduce the spread.

According to the Health Ministry some 721 people have been interviewed and 137 samples collected and sent to the National Public Health Laboratory for testing, as part of COVID-19 surveillance activities conducted in West Kingston last week.

The ministry said the surveillance activities were conducted last Thursday and Friday, following the recent confirmation of five COVID-19 cases in the community. More than 100 team members, including medical doctors, public health inspectors, and public health nurses, were engaged in the effort.

The ministry said, in addition to the sampling and interviews done, the health team also did public education, including the issuing of 361 pamphlets with a range of COVID-19 prevention messages. It said the health authorities are now moving to make test results available to the residents who were sampled in the shortest possible time, as part of the ongoing effort to safeguard public health.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer on Friday, Professor Archer proposed a total lockdown along specific lines for the West Kingston community where the cases were reportedly discovered last week.

“Certainly Beijing is very dense, similar to what we are seeing in West Kingston and perhaps density even at a higher level and close to the market district. So in addition to the residents you have, also, persons coming in, and the prescription that the Chinese Government applied was a complete lockdown of the area so that it could be contained and that's both within the interest of the residents there and the wider community,” she told the Observer.

Quarantining infected people outside the community, she said, might not be the ideal fit in this case.

“So rather than take persons out, I would prescribe a lockdown of the area, but then of course you would have to demarcate the area. So… you look at the spatial layout of the community, you see how the residents move within, how they access basic services, and then you make the necessary recommendations,” she said.

“You don't want to isolate persons so they cannot carry out their daily functions. They need their food to survive. It is not like in some communities where you can stock up. What we are finding is that in some communities persons have an ongoing relationship with their corner store, so you just cannot have a wholesale lockdown of the area. You will have to be a little more strategic, and that comes from understanding how the residents meet their daily needs, how they move in and around the community and you make the necessary recommendations as to how, in locking down the area, you manage the flow, the in and out movement of persons so that they are able to meet their daily needs,” she noted.

“I'm saying, do a complete lockdown, but demarcate the area of the complete lockdown. That's what China did in Beijing where they had a complete lockdown of that market district in the second wave. They had a complete lockdown of the neighbourhood, not the entire city. So what we need to do is demarcate the area and then limit movement in and out of that geographically defined area,” she said further.

As to how such individuals will be monitored without introducing the security forces directly into the picture, she said geofencing technology could be utilised.

“This is where you would use the technology so that persons stay within, however long the experts feel that they need to test. So you have the area locked down using spatial demarcation, you do ongoing and regular testing, and you use technology to monitor persons' movement in and around the community. Those are the three steps that have been used, not just in China, but also in Spain and Italy and that seemed to have cauterised the situation,” she stated.

“This is where the technology is critical because then you don't have to have them interfacing with an individual. You would know the movement of the person and you will be able to contact trace easier that way. They have done something similar in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where as soon as you move outside the geofence there is a signal that you have moved. The technology is relatively easy to implement;; you don't have to have the residents come in contact and develop a hostility between them and the security forces which is really there to direct movement,” Professor Archer added.

Additionally, she said the crisis has presented another opportunity.

“We talked about the need for data and this is where it will show up because the difficulty we will have with implementing some of these is that we don't even have street names in some of these communities, they are not properly labelled. So to say someone lives on Laws Street, for example, when you go there you cannot even see the sign for Laws Street. Or it was renamed and it was not captured so you don't know where the person is living. So basic data, it is showing up and as we move to talk about smart cities we need to make these corrections. These are straightforward corrections that we really need to consider now and not just once COVID is over we go back to the same old same old,” she stated.

In early May this year, Professor Archer, speaking at a teleconference put on by UTech dubbed Prevention a Yard, argued that urban planing experts have been absent from the front of the battle with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the Caribbean, despite being the ones with the skill sets most needed alongside that of health workers.

“Caribbean planners ought to be at the forefront of this battle. Unfortunately, in this current debate, I don't see them playing an active role, but we do need to play an active role because we are uniquely positioned to advocate and provide a strong voice for the resilience of sustainable, safe, and inclusive Caribbean cities that can withstand future pandemics,” Professor Archer said then.

In referring to Jamaica's own experience at the time, in which the virus burgeoned in the space of a week, leading to the shutdown of the parish of St Catherine for 14 days, after an infected worker linked to business process outsourcing outfit Alorica led to a dangerous spike in cases, she said had the Government consulted with planners, the outcome would have been different.

“Urban planners and land use managers are trained to handle a variety of responsibilities around planning, design, and management of land resources. So issues of transportation, issues of public green spaces [are considered]. I can submit to you that, had we had planners or land use managers advising the Government about the limitations of movement or lockdown of St Catherine, the results would have been a bit different and perhaps more palatable to the average Jamaican,” Archer said at the time.

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