I happened to be searching this blog for some material this morning and came across this partial post from 13 years ago Foot and Mouth a Geographical Problem. An outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) occurred in August 2007 on a farm near Normandy in Surrey and movement restrictions were implemented within a few days and kept in place for a month. Livestock movements were banned and a 3 km protection zone was put in place around the affected farm and a wider 10 km zone for cattle surveillance introduced. The action was swift and effective and based on the experience of the much worst 2001 outbreak and a fundamental understand that the transmission of the virus between livestock was a geographical problem.
Swift action by Defra, the government agency responsible for animal health and countryside matters, was an important aspect in reducing the impact of this outbreak and of course the contrast with the governments response to COVID-19 this August is interesting.
There was much greater understanding of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2007, unlike the novel COVID-19, the method by which the virus spread between livestock had been understood for more than 100 years, in particular the virus was spread by
- Close animal-to-animal spread
- Long-distance aerosol spread
- Fomite or infected objects transmission such as fodder or motor vehicles
Fundamentally all virus transmission follows the First Law of Geography, in that the risk of transmission is directly related to the proximity to the person, animal or object with an active viral load. As a result of past experience with FMD there is a complex Cattle Tracing System that monitors all livestock movements along with monitoring animal health both locally and at the UK borders.
Only recently does it appear that the UK Government is starting to look at the response to COVID as a local or neighbourhood issue as opposed to the previous monolithic national approach. Selective “lock-downs” which have occurred in some cities seem to have been effective, but are still working at too large a scale.
The government is currently reporting COVID-19 cases by Middle Layer Super Output Areas (MSOA) an ONS geospatial unit covering a population of around 7,000 people.
This is of course a good starting point and might offer a better foundation for local lockdowns than the current city based approach, for example Bradford as I write this post is covered by a local restriction, but looking at the MSOA level data there is a clear spatial distribution of cases within the city.
We really need to be working on even more localised measures at a neighbourhood or specific location level and of course this is where the overlap with contact tracing occurs.
In my opinion (humble really!!) too much focus has been placed on tracing individuals rather than locations or specific sites which is a more easily managed problem both from the data collection point of view and in terms of reacting to outbreaks.
Venue check-ins seem to be a throwback to the days of Neogeography and the mayors of foursquare, but they remain a very practical and appropriate way for people to register they presence at a location in time and space. I was very much heartened by the addition of a “venue check in” function in the prototype NHS test and Trace app which will use a location specific QR code for users to “check-in” to locations as they go about their lives.
Let’s hope at least this function is finally rolled out!
It’s a simple message to communicate… “that a virus carrier was at the Red Lion on Tuesday and as you checked into the pub around the same time, please get a test..”
Geography is fundamental to managing the COVID-19 outbreak, in this mornings London Times a report on the findings of a paper published in the British Medical Journal suggests that the current social distancing guidelines are outdated and too simplistic, read between the lines and Tobler’s maxim is there…
everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant thingsTobler W., (1970) “A computer movie simulating urban growth in the Detroit region”. Economic Geography, 46(Supplement): 234–240.
So where are the Geographers? amongst the Modellers, Epidemiologists, Public Health Officials and Politicians.. where is the Geographical thinking ?
Geospatial Commission this is your opportunity ?