The impact of Covid-19 on global livability has been absolutely devastating.
Well over a year into the pandemic, ongoing health crises, border closures and lockdowns are continuing to affect millions of people around the world.
But some destinations have fared much better than others in managing the virus, meaning those who live there were able to get back to some semblance of normal life reasonably early on.
New Zealand has been significantly praised for its handling of the crisis so it’s perhaps no surprise that one of its cities has been named the world’s most livable city for 2021.
Auckland came out on top on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index of 140 cities around the world thanks to its success in containing the pandemic quickly, enabling restrictions to be lifted early on.
The annual list did not go ahead in 2020, but Austria’s Vienna, number one in both 2018 and 2019, has completely dropped out of the top 10 after being heavily effected by Covid, and now sits in 12th place.
Down Under dominance
New Zealand’s capital Wellington was fourth on this year’s list, tying with Japan’s Tokyo, and four cities of Australia, where tough border controls have been in place throughout the crisis, occupy the top 10.
Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane came in third, sixth and 10th place respectively, while Melbourne tied with Switzerland’s Geneva at number eight.
“The cities that have risen to the top of the rankings this year are largely the ones that have taken stringent measures to contain the pandemic,” Upasana Dutt from The Economist Intelligence Unit said in a statement.
“New Zealand’s tough lockdown allowed their society to reopen and enabled citizens of cities like Auckland and Wellington to enjoy a lifestyle that looked similar to pre-pandemic life.”
Meanwhile, Tokyo wasn’t the only Japanese city near the top of the list. Osaka, which was number four in 2019, has moved up to second place.
Although Asia-Pacific cities seem to have excelled, Canada, which had three cities, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto near the top two years ago, has dropped out of the top 10 entirely. At number 16, Vancouver is the highest Canadian city on the list.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the overall global average livability score has dropped by seven points when compared with figures before the pandemic.
The index takes into account more than 30 qualitative and quantitative factors spanning five broad categories: stability (25%), health care (20%), culture and environment (25%), education (10%), and infrastructure (20%).
While the categories were not amended this year, a number of indicators were taken into account, such as stress on health care resources and restrictions on local sporting events, when calculating scores for the health care, culture and environment, and education categories.
However, the way in which each city handled the pandemic, how quickly vaccines were rolled out and the level of border restrictions put in place has led to major changes in the rankings.
Health care impact
“The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on global livability,” adds Dutt. “Cities across the world are now much less liveable than they were before the pandemic began, and we’ve seen that regions such as Europe have been hit particularly hard.”
In Europe, Germany saw the biggest drops in ranking, particularly the city of Hamburg, which fell 34 places to 47th on the list.
But despite some social restrictions still being in place in Switzerland, the Central European country has seen two its cities move up, with Zurich and Geneva rising from 11th and 14th to seventh and eighth place.
Overall health care scores have also dropped due to the pandemic, with Czech Republic’s Prague, Greece’s Athens and Indonesia’s Jakarta, where case numbers were rising at the time the survey was conducted, scoring significantly lower than in previous years.
In comparison, Spanish cities Barcelona and Madrid performed well in the health care category, gaining almost 25 points due to their health systems experiencing less strain when compared with the early wave of Covid-19 in 2020.
Hawaii’s capital city Honolulu also upped its health care score, with an increase of 33 points as a result of reducing Covid case numbers and good vaccination rates.
In fact, Honolulu was one of the biggest movers on the 2021 list, rising 46 places to number 14. Houston has jumped 25 spots to number 31, a rise likely connected to Texas being among the first US states to lift restrictions on public spaces.
But while there have been many significant differences towards the top, very little has changed at the bottom of the list.
While Damascus sits in last place once again “as the effects of the civil war in Syria continue to take their toll,” it’s closely followed by Nigeria’s Lagos, Papua New Guinea’s Port Moresby and Bangladesh’s Dhaka, which were all in either similar or identical spots in 2019.
These cities have consistently performed badly over the years due to the instability caused by ongoing civil unrest and military conflicts, amongst other issues.
According to the report, conditions here have deteriorated even further in the past 12 months, especially when it comes to health care, due to Covid-19.
Although successful vaccination rollouts and the easing of restrictions in various countries has raised hopes, the pandemic is continuing to rage on, with India currently in the midst of a deadly outbreak.
“Conditions in the poorest cities are likely to deteriorate further, should cities fail to get the vaccines they need to prevent the spread of new Covid-19 variants,” reads the report. “Weak health care systems could come under greater strain, as they have in India.”
This ultimately means we’re likely to see more significant changes to the annual list come 2022, with some of the cities that have dropped down possibly regaining their former positions.
“The pace of recovery of livability in most regions will be determined by how effectively the health risks of the pandemic can be controlled, through a combination of vaccination, testing, tracing and quarantine measures,” the report continues.
“Barring huge setbacks, such as the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants, scores for culture and environment should improve.”
The world’s most livable cities 2021
1. Auckland, New Zealand
2. Osaka, Japan
3. Adelaide, Australia
4. Wellington, New Zealand
4. Tokyo, Japan
6. Perth, Australia
7. Zurich, Switzerland
8. Geneva, Switzerland
8. Melbourne, Australia
10. Brisbane, Australia
The world’s least livable cities 2021
1. Damascus, Syria
2. Lagos, Nigeria
3. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
4. Dhaka, Bangladesh
5. Algiers, Algeria
6. Tripoli, Libya
7. Karachi, Pakistan
8. Harare, Zimbabwe
9. Douala, Cameroon
10. Caracas, Venezuela