A Techno-Planning Solution for a post-COVID mobility
Hakeem Olatunji Badejo, Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners and Managing Partner of Hob Consult, a Town Planning Consulting Firm
Global terrorism and trafficking in illicit weapons and drugs has resulted in a world order of strict security checks, especially for international travelers. Incidentally, minimal attention is being paid to microbes and viruses which have the potential to destroy the human race. They can cause the spread of illness as is the current case with COVID19 or be used more maliciously for bio-terrorism. World leaders including American Presidents George Bush and Barrack Obama warned in 2005 and 2015 of the imminent threat and advised the world to prepare for a future deadly virus. Even with the experiences of Ebola, Zika, SARS, Swine Flu, MERS, and a host of others, the world failed to prepare. Now, poor and rich countries are now paying the price.
The coronavirus pandemic is a product of globalization. Fast mobility by aircraft and bullet trains have shrunk the world to a global village and has been the major means through which the virus was transferred from person to person and from place to place. To understand how serious this issue is, a flight from Wuhan China, (where the coronavirus was first detected) to Milan, Italy is only about nine hours. Depending on the level of interaction in-flight, an infected person can transmit the virus to about ten or more passengers within this period. One can then imagine the speed of the virus spreading if two infected persons transit from Milan to Lagos and New York. It means that in a space of twenty-four hours, four continents have been exposed to the contagion, while the other passengers and the primary donor continue the spread exponentially across the globe. This becomes really worrisome given the statistics of air travel. According to International Air Transport Association (IATA), in 2018 4.36 billion passengers traveled by air. In 2019 the figure went up to 4.72 billion. Between January and February 2020 when the coronavirus ravage began, China recorded 49 million passengers on domestic flight routes while Europe recorded over 80 million passengers travelling to the different parts of the world.
The global scale of the problem needs to be urgently addressed. As at April 23, 2020, over two million people have been infected and close to two hundred thousand deaths recorded globally. Unfortunately, current strategies to contain the pandemic have been reactionary. Even with the extensive economic and social costs across all sectors worldwide, current efforts are focused mainly on medical interventions – vaccines and treatments and antibodies. There is also an urgent need for proactive thinking to resolve the imminent challenges of global travel, and the need to develop resilient virus detection systems to curtail the speed and spread of future pandemics.
One way of doing this is to take advantage of the wide range of available technologies (medical imaging, artificial intelligence for rapid detection of lung infection, non-contact sensing and vital sign assessment among others). Rather than reinventing the wheel, we can upgrade the existing body and luggage scanners at airports that currently screen for weapons and narcotics.
I believe the human scanner cubicle currently being used in airports can be retrofitted by kitting with sensors and non-ionizing radiation that can detect high temperature and potential carrier of epidemiological dangerous virus. I have designed a simple modification (See Fig 1 &2). With this modification, the door of the body scanner will open normally if a passenger has no weapons, narcotics or dangerous microbes on his person. Such a person will exit through compartment H and continue his journey. In the case where there is a suspicion of infection, the door will rotate and gently slide to compartment B, which is an isolation unit, where the relevant medical team can access the passenger for further examination.
Figures 1 and 2 above, show the plan and cross-section of the proposed port body scanner/ screening machine (Hob 20) which can come in different variants. They also need to be installed in all transport terminals in order to mitigate the risk of infection for anyone who patronizes public transport. With these improved security scanners, the spread of future epidemic can be detected, contained and isolated ab initio, and the global lockdown and its negative impacts would have been prevented.
What we have learnt from the ongoing coronavirus epidemic is that a small microbe can hold the world to ransom. It also shows the vulnerability of urbanization, globalization and mobility in general. The potential of upscaling existing technology such as the body scanner to detect known and unknown deadly virus and use of same at major ports should be considered urgently, and action taken in unison globally to prevent future reoccurrence.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development or the University of Lagos, Nigeria.