On 29 May, Eurocities held a city dialogue with the World Health Organisation on the topic of public health measures and urban preparedness in the context of COVID-19.
Attended by 35 participants from 20 European cities, this was the first city dialogue entirely focused on health and key health determinants critically affected by the crisis. Participants had the opportunity to get acquainted with the latest WHO technical guidance on preparedness for COVID-19 and exchange on key measures for COVID-19 transition and post-pandemic resilience.
Key highlights and messages from the dialogue
- The evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a set of interconnected challenges linked to increased demand for health services, the burden of physical distancing on individuals and communities and unprecedented socio-economic consequences for businesses and workers. Cities are national epicenteres in the COVID-19 pandemic, but also entry points to engaging with communities. Municipal governments are key in reaching out to vulnerable groups, including new vulnerable groups emerging throughout this crisis (e.g. ‘new urban poor’). Risk communication messaging with trusted public health messaging and advice is key in all transition phases and needed for all segments of society. Communication should be paired with active community involvement, such as for instance through the mobilisation of volunteers and partnerships with civil society organisations, civil protection and universities.
- Ensuring the continuity of essential services, including services beyond health care, also contributes to the prevention and control of COVID-19. This includes having a clear list of essential public services and infrastructure, ensuring continuation of primary health care services and essential prevention services such as vaccination programmes for children. To support first line care services, technological solutions such as telemedicine should be considered. Many cities (Milan, Espoo,Glasgow, Nice, Zagreb, Zaragoza, Vienna, Bordeaux, Poznan, Krakow, Nicosia, Barcelona, Ljubljana, Beşiktaş) operate hotlines to provide remote medical assistance to COVID-19 patients and others. Additionally, some cities provide psychological advice by telephone.
- The crisis has shown that mortality figures can be lowered if comprehensive policies are implemented at the right time. This includes some of the most vulnerable community settings, such as long-term care facilities where COVID-19 has hit particularly hard. In this context, the pandemic has underlined the importance of local decision-making in times of crisis with focus on fast reaction and social aspects of care which frequently falls under local responsibility.
- It is crucial that national and EU funding, including the new European recovery plan, makes a clear difference at local level and benefits people’s health and well-being. The European Commission’s new EUR 9,4 billion health programme “EU4Health” should harness and scale up co-benefits between health and urban preparedness, by directly supporting local level health capacities, including via strengthened synergies with cohesion policy (ESF+ & ERDF) and Horizon Europe.
- The current crisis is also a window of opportunity to ‘build back better’, by putting health and well-being as key driver to sustainable and inclusive urban development. A crucial pathway to achieve this involves stronger attention to health throughout a life-course, investments in health infrastructure, services, and workforce, and building synergies between health and well-being with the economy, food and energy systems. Many cities are currently emerging as frontrunners in this urgently needed transformation; Glasgow is prioritising an ‘asset-based’ approach in the recovery, based on the need to redress the balance between meeting needs and nurturing the strengths and resources of people and communities; Amsterdam is embracing the ‘doughnut model’ for its post-pandemic recovery – a circular economy concept focused on wellbeing and caring for the planet; Barcelona is scaling up it’s 2030 Agenda guided by the localisation of the SDGs to galvanise green investments and co-design recovery strategies and measures with all stakeholders in and outside the city hall.
The recording of the City Dialogue is available here: