Re-Imagining Public Spaces in the wake of Covid19

Pundits have opined that corona-virus is no passing cloud and we need to learn how to to live with it. Lock-downs are being lifted globally and with the resumption of day to day activities, emphasis has been placed on wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands to beat the pandemic.

Built environment experts have called for the redesign of public spaces and buildings to mitigate future pandemics that have been known to thrive in dingy, congested and poorly planned spaces.

The kind of changes that will need to be implemented as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic include changes in seating arrangements in vehicles, offices and emphasis on biosafety for both private and public buildings.

Establishing mandatory hygiene stations at entrances to buildings

Hygiene stations can be in the form of a simple hand wash basin with running water, soap and paper towels to dry the hands. Where this is not possible then sanitizers can be availed. This will safeguard transmissions especially through shared surfaces that one cannot avoid touching such as shopping carts, handrails, lift buttons, ATMs and buttons on copy machines. These surfaces can potentially hold viruses for several hours and should be cleaned and disinfected regularly throughout the day.

Zero contact

It is important to limit the number of surfaces that come into contact with many people. Installing automatic doors, which open and close with the help of sensors, eliminates the need for using door handles.

Hand free sensor taps may be more costly but are far more hygienic than normal taps since they require no human contact. They are best suited for for public washrooms, hospitals and homes for the elderly.

There has been concern about finger print recognition systems which require users to touch the sensors. They can act as a medium to pass the virus via contact. One can opt to disinfecting the sensor surfaces with alcohol and this could significantly lower the possibility of virus transmission, if not completely remove it.

Public Transport

The Ministry of Health has instructed all public service vehicles to observe spacing between passengers by carrying only 60 per cent of the capacity of their vessels. All public service operators are also required to provide sanitizers for passengers before boarding vehicles.

The shortfalls of the the existing public transport system have been pointed out here. There is therefore urgent need for increased investments in social public infrastructure especially the non motorized transport in the form of cycling lanes and foot paths.

Cover Image: The new biosafety terminal from Ethiopian Airlines at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport. Source: Ethiopian Airlines.

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