COVID-19: Message from CLGF (1)
08 April 2020
Dear Members, Partners and Friends of CLGF,
The 1918/19 Spanish Flu pandemic had far reaching effects worldwide. My own great-grandmother and two of her children succumbed to the illness. My grandmother, (who was 10 years old at the time), was infected but recovered. Many years later, when I was a boy, she would recount stories of that period to me in hushed almost reverent tones, as if, should she speak louder, it might reawaken the virus to return with apocalyptic consequences.
Later in life, as my eventual public health training and experience in local government intersected, I often thought (and articulated) what would happen should a pandemic on the scale of the Spanish Flu return? Admittedly, levels of poverty were much higher then, standards of living lower and medical care was not what it is now. But now we have international air travel at levels unimaginable in 1918 and a much more urbanised world, two factors which would fuel the spread of a virus in a new pandemic.
A century after the dreadful Spanish Flu pandemic we now face COVID-19. We have seen that the two mainstays of controlling the spread of the virus are widespread testing and country wide social isolation and lock downs. It is interesting to note that in the 1918/19 pandemic, cities that initiated citywide isolation fared much better than those that did not. Some cities allowed social interaction and community life to continue as long as citizens wore masks, but even in these cities infection rates were much higher than those that followed the social isolation route.
Community isolation, now necessary in many Commonwealth countries, has challenging consequences. Families are unable to see each other, with the separation being most distressing at times of family bereavement. Isolation is particularly hard for the elderly and vulnerable. There are however, many good examples of organisations and local governments responding to these challenges.
Malta local government keeping in contact with citizens
In Malta, the Local Councils Association together with the Regional Councils and the Local Councils have created a “YouSafe” Facebook page which is a community support platform created for each Local Council, allowing officials and elected councillors and mayors to keep in contact with their community at all times during the crisis. It also ensures that the elderly are not forgotten, neighbours are safe, and creates a dialogue between the Council and its residents, which also allows the business community, NGOs, civil society networks and individuals to be mobilised around particular ideas, initiatives and community solutions.
Youth addressing community impacts
Peace First, a global youth focused organisation which CLGF has partnered with before, has launched a rapid response grant process which aims to support young people around the world to lead projects that address community impacts of COVID-19. These include providing meals to elderly neighbours to launching digital mental health campaigns to support youth feeling isolated. The fund will support youth (13-25 years) anywhere in the world who want to create projects to deal with the secondary effects of the virus, such as social isolation or xenophobia (more details of this are on the CLGF website).
The community isolation presents a very human face to the pandemic. There are many examples of people caring for each other and checking in with neighbours and supporting the elderly and the vulnerable or going to their doors and windows at predetermined times to applaud the frontline health workers, who are the real heroes in this pandemic. We must not forget that it is at times like this, that it is the collective human spirit of caring and community togetherness, which will go a long way to eventually defeating this virus. Wherever you may be in the world, we are all in this together.
Best practice and advice on COVID-19
We are building up a special link on the CLGF website on best practice and knowledge on COVID responses and encourage you to submit any that you may have. In the meantime I wish you well in your efforts to support your families, neighbours and communities.
Dr Greg Munro
Commonwealth Local Government Forum
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