In many ways, we benefit from the local authority becoming the main operator when dealing with crises such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the local authorities were found as the most effective force for dealing with the crisis. The function of the local authority during a crisis becomes central and important for a number of reasons:
1. The relations between the local authority and the residents: The authority’s familiarity with the local population, the businesses, and the institutions that operate in it, enables effective actions in emergencies. A relationship of trust is maintained between the authority and its residents.
2. Direct control: Local authorities reflect the local population. They are the first to spot problems, which makes them a key partner in the learning and improvement system to manage Covid-19. The establishment of municipal operations and control centers for the specific needs of the residents allows for effective collaboration.
3. Provision of services: The local authorities provide their residents with most public services, including education and welfare services. During a crisis, the local authority will continue to provide the residents with the necessary services and care.
In Europe, most local governments must follow the national guidelines. They have the power to tighten the guidelines in their territory, and apply specific restrictions to the infection rate in a given area. In Germany, municipalities and local authorities are pursuing a policy specific to the region. In Russia, the mayors of provinces and cities must follow federal decisions but have the authority to decide on extensive restrictions in the region.
In China, as of the outbreak of the virus, the local authorities were given the power to manage the outbreak in their territory.
In Israel, the introduction of the “traffic light” system — which ranks the cities in Israel according to infection rate — enables different coping by imposing different restrictions in each region. The three parameters to calculate the score are: The rate of cases, the rate of positive tests, and the rate of growth of new cases. As part of the “traffic light” program, each authority will receive individual instructions for its field regarding gathering in accordance with the color of their city/region.
Authorizations of local governments in Israel
The guidelines imposed by the Ministry of Health cannot be eased, but can be tightened by the head of the authority according to the rate of infection, expected events and specific causes.
Information gathering: Local authorities are authorized to collect information about residents and provide it to the health system while maintaining individual privacy and privacy protection, including information about verified, epidemiological questioning, residents committed to isolation, testing, patient rates, exposure points. In order to manage the event in the territory, up-to-date and reliable information is needed. The information should be transmitted only by the systems designed for it. Performing epidemiological investigations within the authority is necessary to interrupt local infection chains immediately.
Contact with the HMOs: A representative from the local authority will be in continuous contact with each of the HMOs, so that the authority representor can understand and handle the situation immediately: Isolated residents, requirement of transfers to a government Covid-19 hotel, testing needs and welfare needs of its residents.
Support for the isolated residents: Isolated residents who cannot maintain home isolation are transferred to a hotel, and are supplied with food and medicines.
Public awareness and information: The local authority maintains a close dialogue with the residents to maintain a relationship of trust with them. The local authority is authorized to publish the infection rate in the region/district to its residents, and communicate the latest guidelines and the actions to reduce the infection in the given area.
The local authority has an important role in making the information accessible to the population according to local characteristics. Information should be adapted to the population in terms of content, language and platform. For example, there should be more printed advertising in areas where the population is older or unnaccustomed to digital technology (“Pashkevils” in ultra-Orthodox districts), as well as information in several languages in areas where not all residents are fluent in Hebrew. Local governments can identify information gaps, sentiment and discourse from the residents via services designed to collect inquiries (through telephone calls, applications and social networks).
Encouraging business adaptation and activity: This can be done by extending the opening hours of businesses to prevent gatherings, creating separate schedules for high risk groups, and transferring services to an online platform. Information and new procedures for businesses and customers is communicated in a clear way for all.
Enforcement and supervision: Enforcement in the territory is delegated to the local police station, local authority inspectors, and employees who were hired specially for this role. The teams will patrol the given area to find residents and business owners who do not meet the guidelines.
Sanitization: Regular disinfection and cleaning of public spaces.
Financial relief: Identifying the residents who need the support of the Welfare Department. The support will be given according to the needs of the residents and the available resources in the authority. Volunteers for the elderly, for families with children with special needs, and for individuals in isolation will take place in accordance with the guidelines of the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Health.
Introducing a welfare program to support home isolation: Authorities selected according to the infection rate will receive extra assistance: Food packages are offered to welfare-supported families, packages for patients required to stay home which include medications and activities to pass time. The establishment of a center for public inquiries is recommended.
In most cities, a control center has been established. This enables control, monitoring and synchronization of efforts between the various departments and professionals in the government, and outside of it.
The control center is headed by a director. The center is usually active throughout the day and provides ongoing solutions for the residents — testing, isolation spaces, assistance, welfare and education. The staff is composed of municipal employees, and if necessary is recruited and qualified for a new staffing position.
The main effort of the control center is to share the information with the decision makers in the local authority, by controlling the situation while managing the municipal departments: Gathering information from the government and HMOs, managing the patient testing and epidemiological survey, assisting and informing the population, evacuating patients and isolated residents, enforcing guidelines.
- How do European countries manage to deal with the Corona crisis?, Corona National Information and Knowledge Center, 12.04.2020
- What can be learned from the management of quarantine in China? Broadcasting control and calm and reducing crowds, with the help of local authorities and private companies, Corona National Information and Knowledge Center, 29.03.2020
- ‘Moreh Nevuchim’ to manage the Covid-19 situation in the local authorities, Magen Israel project, November 2020