Lots of problems have come crawling out of the woodwork as COVID-19 cases have steadily risen, and people all over the world have been hard at work trying to find solutions to put an end to this ordeal. Here in the Philippines, one problem that’s come up recently has been the capacity of our healthcare system. Barely a week into quarantine, many of the largest private hospitals in the NCR declared that they were already operating at maximum capacity, and the need for facilities dedicated exclusively for Covid-19 patients became more apparent as a result of that. In a string of recent Facebook posts, landscape architect and urban planning advocate Paulo Alcazaren mentioned a number of already-existing spaces he thinks would function well as COVID-19 exclusive facilities. ABS-CBN Lifestyle got in touch with him to pick his mind more on what he thinks would be the ideal response to this pandemic, as well as what lessons we ought to learn from this in the future.
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Among the spaces recommended, Alcazaren specifically mentioned the Quezon Institute (built in the 1910s to combat tuberculosis already being utilized) and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center both in Quezon City; and the National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong City. He said how the green open spaces surrounding these medical facilities are an advantage as they “serve to isolate this area from the rest of the city, serving as buffer to dissipate anything airborne.” This not only prevents infection from spreading out of the facilities, he added, but also gives the patients there a good break from the pollution of the city. Ultimately, a healthier and cleaner environment will help patients recover, he said.
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More than that, Alcazaren explained, these spaces also allow plenty of use in other situations, such as “(providing) expansion areas for tents that can accommodate more patients, and as triage and processing centers before patients are sent to the main buildings or hospital tents. In the event of earthquakes or strong typhoons, these spaces, with the tents again, can serve the purposes above, and also be a refugee camp for displaced residents,” as well as being able to “allow for helicopter medivacs if necessary.”
“To come out of this and not learn some lessons would be another tragedy,” stressed Alcazaren, who has his own recommendations for how our cities and towns should become after the crisis:
We need more hospitals and open space
Ideally, there should be one hospital for each district, “so it becomes accessible for everyone.” Putting them beside open green space, such as parks, would be ideal, though something simple such as a town plaza, “which is not currently required in building new towns,” would also do the trick.
Arenas and stadiums should be built with emergency functions in mind
Now that sports complexes like the Rizal Memorial Coliseum and Philippine Sports Complex and convention halls such as the World Trade Center have been approved for use as quarantine facilities, plans for building facilities like these in the future should also remember that they can also be used during emergencies. One example, Alcazaren mentioned, is the Palarong Pambansa, which takes place every few years in a different city around the country every time. “Often, new and expensive purpose-built complexes are put up by local governments, but many are too far from population centers and become white elephants after the event.”
Preparation is key
“We cannot wait for local and national leaders to set up inter-agency task forces when calamities strike,” said Alcazaren. Different agencies in government should already have plans drawn up for when problems come up, and spaces all throughout the metro should already be designated by them for use during emergencies. Ideally, this work would be coordinated with all 17 cities in Metro Manila, so nobody gets left behind, and all the differences in each city, such as land area, geography, or population, among others, can be taken into account in these preparations.
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Photographs taken from the Facebook account of Paulo Alcazaren