World cities after the Covid
Around the world, mayors have been at the forefront in managing the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus. The main centers of infection were concentrated in metropolitan areas, and the more attractive and connected these metropolises were, the more they suffered – “The epidemic has clearly taken advantage of the forces of urban globalization to develop”, wrote the geographer Michel Lussault in our columns. How did the city officials experience this unprecedented crisis? How do they articulate his first lessons with the urban policies they had implemented, especially in the fight against global warming? Our correspondents interviewed, worldwide, fourteen mayors or governors (Barcelona, San Francisco, Kigali, Manchester, Seoul, Florence, Abidjan, Montreal, Budapest, Bogota, Bangkok, Tokyo, Madrid and Mexico). Their interviews, which we are publishing from June 14 to 21, testify to the vulnerability of metropolitan areas but also to the resources they are able to mobilize to respond to the health, climate and democratic crises.
The effectiveness of South Korea’s policy against the Covid-19 pandemic allows its capital, Seoul, to post a relatively mild record of 1,120 infections and four deaths as of June 16. Park Won-soon, its Democratic mayor elected in 2011, then re-elected in 2014 and 2018, remains vigilant, however. The former activist and lawyer defending the values of democracy, the son of a farmer from South Gyeongsang province and close to progressive President Moon Jae-in, wants to learn from the pandemic thanks to, among other things, new technologies and strengthening the welfare state.
Despite sporadic outbreaks of contamination, Seoul appears poised to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic without having confined its population. How to explain this relative success?
In addition to the national policies for rapid and massive tests, as well as tracing the pathways of contamination, the involvement and mobilization of the inhabitants of Seoul, which made it possible to keep the number of contamination relatively low, is to be welcomed. It was not won in a metropolis of 10 million inhabitants. Everyone took responsibility for prevention and control, accepting physical distancing.
Ditto with the masks: we did not have to deplore massive traffic thanks to the implementation of a rationed distribution system. Anyone could buy one day a week. The purchase day was based on the date of birth, which avoided long queues.
What lessons do you learn from this pandemic?
Covid is a new and peculiar disease, which is spreading rapidly with many asymptomatic cases. I believe that contagious diseases will continue to pose a threat to life. You have to prepare for it.
Seoul wants to become an international benchmark in the post-coronavirus era for the prevention and management of communicable diseases. In the future, prevention will be perpetuated in people’s daily lives, based on the reflexes acquired in recent months which create a “new normal”.
“We must support the growth of personal mobility by insisting on environmental protection and connected technologies”
We will maintain a distance and invest in the public medical system. We want to set up a system to assess the severity of the disease and create a public medical university dependent on the municipality to guarantee the necessary manpower. We also plan to set up an infectious disease research center and an epidemiological laboratory.
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