The corona crisis has created significant challenges for both government ministries and local authorities because of trying to balance changes to the daily routine of the population while at the same time maintaining as much routine as possible, providing services to citizens according to changing needs, and maintaining strict and changing guidelines from the Ministry of Health.
Local authorities were quick to take charge. It was possible to see how municipalities and regional and local councils – set up support systems for residents in various fields from seemingly nowhere!
Since senior citizens were at the forefront of risk groups in COVID19 and the first to shut themselves in their homes, customized solutions were required for the elderly population, from purchasing food and medicine to providing assistance and medical services. Many authorities operated call centers and volunteer systems that made telephone contact with all senior citizens in the city, according to the age group found in the databases and mapped and recorded the data: elderly people living alone, people with disabilities, elderly people who have difficulty cooking and caring for themselves, financial difficulties and more. These were addressed by purchasing food and medicine for them, bringing hot meals, and maintaining phone contact regularly to alleviate the loneliness.
The decision to physically shut down the education system and move to distance learning was among the challenging issues brought up by the COVID19 pandemic. The Ministry of Education supported distance learning, but the difficulties in the home and family space did not always allow for the creation of effective connection and learning. One of the difficulties that stood out was families with several school-aged children when the number of computers in the home was less than the number of children. Municipal assistance was offered through the distribution and lending of laptops and tablets and mediation between entities that are willing to donate computers to students who need them.
Assistance for Businesses
The COVID19 crisis particularly hit local and small businesses, with both state and local authorities trying to address, even partially, this major problem. The government’s decision to grant a three-month local-tax exemption was transferred to the local authorities, who could decide the mode of application of the benefit: three months of total exemption or an annual discount of 25%, and to these were added other benefits chosen by local authorities such as exemptions and discounts from municipal taxes, local advertising at no cost and encouraging people to support local businesses.
An integral part of the crisis was the flood of information about citizens, which combined official information, interpretations, and opinions and “fake news,” which ran on social networks. People found themselves overloaded with information that was partly misleading and confusing, which caused, among other things, non-compliance with the guidelines. Many local authorities decided to take responsibility and gather only reliable and verified information for residents by creating a page relevant to the Corona issue on the municipality’s website, through direct messages and SMS from the municipality, and through other channels.
Most local authorities received positive feedback in the residents’ evaluation of their performance despite having to function with limited tools at their disposal. As part of the lessons learned and the conclusions drawn by the municipal management of the COVID-19 crisis, the issue was raised as to the assimilation of technologies that will enable a significant upgrade of the municipal services, both in times of crisis and in routine days.
The Center for Municipal Innovation (MIC) presents the next generation of municipal services, which has already provided a foothold to some of the authorities.
The center is available to local authorities in Israel, with virtual tours, innovative databases, and a visitor center, and an introduction to the wonders of technology and the smart urban management that is at our doorstep.