Zone Defense Against The Covid  
Posted by CenPEG
May 03, 2020


Zoning is a classic defense -- employed by the military and police and in team sports like basketball -- against an enemy within, and it’s a pity it has not been resorted to in the case of the Covid 19 until now. It should have been done since Day One but even now, late though it is, it should still be used because it can help flatten the curve as well as hasten the easing of economic restrictions.

The tools we presently have to subdue the spread of the virus, such as mass testing and contact tracing, are best applied – in fact, often make sense only – in the context of zones. They can hardly make an impact when the scale of operations is very big and are more effective when the scale is broken down into manageable bits.  

What is zoning?

By “zoning”, we mean dividing a geographic area into smaller sections and physically separating them from each other -- the smaller the zones, the better. The idea is similar to using firebreaks to divide the forest fire and contain its spread.

Quezon City, for example, has probably enough logistics capability to initially set up 400 zones of roughly 4,000 houses each. To man the borders (checkpoints on access streets) of a zone would require probably 5 police assisted by 10 to 20 barangay tanods or volunteers. The virus can thus be fought at a localized level and as zones are cleared of the virus, business and other activities can slowly resume within and between cleared zones. As more areas return to normal, resources can be efficiently concentrated on the gradually decreasing number of zones that remain.

Limited capabilities, like contact tracing and testing capacity, can be prioritized to cool zones so as to quickly release them from lockdown, thus quickly reducing the area of concern. Should a case re-emerge in a zone that has already been released, its borders can be put up again and, this time, contact tracing and quarantining individuals or households would be feasible, making unnecessary the locking down of whole neighborhoods.

Through the process of zoning, clearing and releasing zones from lockdown, the contagion can be gradually isolated and eventually erased. At the same time, economic activity can gradually resume and recovery can eventually be planned city by city, province by province, and nation-wide.  

Zoning in context of the overall defense plan

If we had known early enough that a virus was coming our way, we could have raised a defense perimeter around our archipelago. Should any case have arisen, the appropriate response would be contact tracing and quarantine of individuals or households – no need to quarantine more people or lock down bigger areas. Defense against the virus would be purely a government operation.

But what really happened was by the time we heard about it, an estimated 5 million individuals had already left Wuhan for parts unknown and therefore we had to start our defense plan with the assumption that some infection was already inside and going about its business somewhere in the country.

The situation that we needed to plan for was not an invasion but infection from within. This meant involving the citizenry and arming them to protect themselves -- as individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, societies. The best arms that the common folk can have are procedures – 5 to 10 action steps drummed into their heads by the proper authority. (This must be the mass communications priority and should not be drowned out by an overload of information, analyses and opinions from various authorities that only the cognoscenti can digest.)     

The government, for its part, has the twin task of minimizing infection and death (the medical response) and suppressing the contagion (the management response.) The effective management response is a combination of zoning and restriction of activities, which should be imposed immediately, to be eased up later as warranted.

What activities are to be restricted? In my view, only some economic activities should continue and all other activities should be stopped: social and religious group functions and activities; entertainment, recreation and sports.

To decide which economic activities to allow, I think the best way is to enumerate the products and services that must remain available to people, then identify all the economic activities necessary for the purpose. For example, if rice makes the list, then everything needed to produce, mill and market it should be allowed. Fertilizers and chemicals would then be allowed; likewise, storage, transport, wholesale and retail. Thus would production, marketing and service activities be controlled, while consumption activities are controlled by the zone.

H. A. Barrios. Quezon City, April 2020             

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