By Ali Raza Shah
You might have heard a lot about herd immunity, vaccination and Green Zone to make the world safer to mitigate the risk of Covid-19.
Today we are talking about the Green Zone idea.
It has two key elements.
First, identifying green zones, meaning areas where the sanitary system is operational, the growth rate of infections is low and the future risks appear manageable and second, progressively joining these green zones together once it is safe to do.
The purpose of lockdown is to mitigate the risks of Covid-19 and partition the world population into disconnected sub-networks, between which movement is limited is called zoning. But such partitions are far from complete.
Such zoning measures have been successfully implemented in several areas in China, notably Wuhan. This would reduce links between different areas and prevent the virus from travelling throughout the territory. As it is impossible to cut links completely due to the need for key workers to travel, and some people ignore the rules, we incorporated this into our analysis.
Green zoning would make the transition back to normal life after the initial spread is contained a lot easier. To control the process and the inevitable partial resurgence of the virus, it suggests an approach building on a recent article by the Spanish economist Joan Monràs. He proposes first opening up zones that act as local labour markets or areas that have high levels of commuting within, but little commuting beyond them.
This idea suggests that each nation should be partitioned into geographic areas, or cells, with 5,000 to 100,000 inhabitants. To limit economic damage, this partition should consider “commuting zones”, that is, zones which share many economic ties.
Each cell is labelled red or green depending on their current status regarding COVID-19. In red cells, the situation would be similar to lockdown. The sanitary measures, restrictions on opening of shops and restrictions on leaving your house would remain in place. In addition, in order to leave one’s zone, a special certificate would be required, reserved for key workers and other important reasons. In contrast, life would progressively go back to normal within green cells.
Consider a town with some 10,000 inhabitants where most people work in a local factory, or in other occupations within the community. Once the virus in under control, no new infections have been detected for several consecutive days (determined by thorough randomised testing as proposed by Economic Nobel Laureate Paul Romer), the town would be labelled “green”. Its inhabitants would then be able to return to their usual social and economic interactions within their zone but travel out of town would be restricted.
After approximately a week, when the virus is under control within a small number of neighbouring green cells, they would be joined together into a “green zone”. In this way, ever-larger green zones would be created, with people sharing the same shops, workplaces, parks, and schools, arrondissements could successively be joined together to eventually reunite the city.
The exact definition of what would constitute a green zone and when to join them together would depend on the specific countries and needs to be defined with consultation of medical, epidemiological and economic experts. In some cases, it may be preferable to refer to them as “amber” in order to highlight the fact that many restrictions remain in place.
Testing and zoning would of course not be perfect. Some green zones would therefore inevitably show a resurgence of infections, and so cease to be “green”. When this happens, the green labelling of the entire area would be lost, and we would go back to the previous lockdown situation. While green zone merging requires a careful process, it is efficient. In some sense, this approach would involve deconstructing society into its fundamental blocks before reconstructing society from these same blocks.
Green zoning would allow rapid reunification and the minimisation of societal and economic damage by restarting normal relationships as soon as possible. There would also be the possibility of adopting green zoning to fit each region’s capability to implement other measures, such as, availability of testing or immunity certificates or practice of sanitary precautions.
To reap the full advantages that the practice of green zoning offers, important policy choices must be made. The definition of zones needs careful consideration of social and economic ties. The rules applying for each zone would need to be clearly defined. Importantly, all measures, including green zoning, would need the support of the public, which may not be easy to secure, given the significant increase in policing measures involved.
The time has come to consider an exit strategy. This mathematical modelling suggests that some version of green zoning would offer this. Through the progressive enlargement of green zones, we would able to rebuild our social and economic interaction in a safe, efficient, and rapid way.
The writer is a senior Population Welfare Officer at Population Welfare Department, Government of Balochistan.