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RPT-COLUMN-Disease X and Rethinking the City’s Future: Kemp


(A repeat, unmodified article sent August 27. John Kemp is a market analyst at Reuters. The views expressed are his opinions.)

John Kemp

LONDON, AUGUST 27 (Reuters)-COVID-19 pandemic exposes vulnerabilities in densely populated cities with a high concentration of accommodation and public transport to an airborne virus.

Even with an effective vaccine in place, outbreaks are unlikely to be the last, and future outbreaks of coronaviruses and other airborne viruses will probably be decades into the future.

The novel coronavirus requires a deep rethink on how to redesign cities with high population density and connectivity, especially large cities, to make them safe in the medium to long term.

Pandemic plan

Epidemiologists have warned about new and more frequent emerging diseases since World War II.

Researchers have identified 335 new human diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, ranging from bird flu to deer (“Epidemics and social”, Snowden, 2020).

Since the 1990s, public health experts have warned of the increasing urgency of the potential for pandemics (“Emerging Infections: The Microbial Threat in the United States,” American Institute of Medicine, 1992).

In the early 2000s, the United States Central Intelligence Agency and RAND Corporation highlighted the threat to national security and well-being (“Global Threat of New Reinfectious Infections”, RAND, 2003).

In September 2019, the World Health Organization published the first annual report of the Global Reserve Committee on Global Preparatory Oversight, prepared to pressure policymakers to mitigate against health threats.

The report warned of an increasing threat from “an epidemic or pandemic that not only causes loss of life but also disrupts the economy and disrupts society,” entitled “World at Risk.”

During the last few decades, public health experts have tightened the plans for an unknown “Disease X” pandemic, investigating possible health and economic implications, and the response and control strategies of war games. I am.

(According to the WHO, Disease X represents the knowledge that pathogens that are not currently known to cause human disease can cause serious international epidemics).

Outbreaks of avian influenza, Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) have all come to be regarded as major influenza rehearsals.

At the time, the epidemics led to a surge of interest and funding from policy makers, but as the emergency slumped and the fear subsided, the government and citizens returned to business as usual.

“Following each microbial challenge, a period of enthusiastic activity at all levels, both internationally and nationally, followed by forgetfulness, ended,” historian Frank Snowden said.

Rethink mega city

Even if an effective vaccine could be developed to control COVID-19, the threat of future epidemics, including X disease, would not disappear.

Therefore, coronaviruses should encourage policy makers to reconsider the underlying factors that contributed to their rapid transmission, such as the structure of cities and megacities and their impact on public health.

Coronaviruses expose a range of vulnerabilities, including urbanization, overcrowding, poverty, uneven health services, public transport, and aviation, demanding deeper rethinking.

Coronavirus should serve as a warning. Future infectious diseases, including X disease, may be more contagious and/or deadly.

Ultra-dense and hyper-connected cities are vulnerable or fragile because they use terms that are familiar to risk managers and emergency planners (“Weak Forces: Energy for National Security”). Strategy”, Lovins, 1982).

The challenge is to re-imagine them and re-engineer them to make them more resilient, while maintaining financial success and attractive features to the population.

Policy tradeoffs

Megacities and other major cities are some of the most economically successful regions of the modern economy, a major driver of prosperity, and some have limited spillover effects in neighboring areas.

Cities have very high per capita output, high incomes, create an imbalanced share of innovation, and are more energy efficient than urban and rural areas.

London’s per capita economic output in 2017 was 77% above the national average, more than double that of most other parts of the UK. An analysis with data from the British Bureau of Statistics shows.

At the same time, London’s energy consumption was well below average. This is mainly due to the high reliance on public transport such as buses and suburbs and subways.

London’s transportation energy consumption was about 3,100 kilowatt hours per person in 2017, less than half of the energy used in the adjoining regions of the South East (7,700 kWh) and East England (8,100 kWh).

From 2007 to 2017, London’s transportation became faster and more efficient than any other region, with per capita energy usage at 13% in the southeast and only 7% in eastern England. 26% decrease.

For urban enthusiasts and climate change activists, dense cities are a success story, creating prosperity while reducing energy intensity and curbing carbon emissions (

But the downside to its success is the growing congestion of homes, workplaces, social areas, and public transport.

The key question is whether cities, especially megacities, can be redesigned to reduce the chances of overcrowding and transmission, while maintaining much of their productivity and energy efficiency.

Can you reduce transmission risk without overcrowding the city while maintaining productivity and energy efficiency benefits?

Can cities be redesigned by changes in land use, spatial planning, density management, or by changes in behavior or use of existing assets?

Can dense, interconnected cities be better protected through enhanced disease surveillance and other public health measures?

Finally, is there a case where you want to spread more economic activity and population, or at least new growth, from megacities and other major cities to secondary cities and smaller urban areas?

Inertia and rupture

Rebuilding a city involves severe trade-offs between policy makers, business leaders, real estate investors, and private citizens.

How much a city changes under the influence of coronaviruses and in anticipation of future epidemics depends on the balance of the two forces of inertia and rupture.

Strong vested interests are already driving the pre-epilemic recovery of residential accommodation, commercial real estate, core work patterns, commuting and transportation distribution.

At the same time, cities and entire nations are under the shock of being ranked among the largest social and economic turmoil of the century, which is an important rethinking of intellectual, social, and policy. Creating a space.

The number of changing and non-changing cities depends on how shocks overcome inertia.

Related columns:

-Large city after the Coronavirus (Reuters, August 25)

-Do large cities have to mutate for viruses? (Reuters, August 13)

-Coronavirus is the dark side of the interconnected world of cities (Reuters, May 22)

-Urbanization and increased energy consumption (Reuters, 13 November) (edited by Barbara Lewis)


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