Background: The challenges faced by the Global South to the COVID-19 pandemic are compounded by the presence of informal settlements which are typified by being densely populated and lacking formalized sanitation infrastructure. Social distancing measures in informal settlements may be difficult to implement due to the density and layout of settlements. This study looks at distance between dwellings in informal settlements in Cape Town as a way to identify vulnerability to COVID-19 transmission risk.

Objective: The objective of this paper is, using two settlements by way of example, to determine if social distancing measures are achievable in informal settlements in Cape Town, firstly by examining the distance to dwellings first, second, and third nearest neighbours, and secondly by identifying clusters of dwellings in which residents would be unable to effectively practice social isolation due to the close proximity of their homes.

Methods: Dwellings in the settlements of Masiphumelele and Klipfontein Glebe are extracted from a GIS dataset of outlines of all informal dwellings in Cape Town. The distance to each dwellings first, second, and third nearest neighbour are calculated for each settlement. A social distance measure of 2m is used (buffer of 1 m as then dwellings less than 2 m apart are joined) to identify clusters of dwellings which are unable to effectively practice social distancing in each settlement.

Results: The distance to dwellings first three nearest neighbours illustrates that the settlement of Masiphumelele is constructed in a denser fashion when compared with Klipfontein Glebe. This implies that it is likely that implementing social distancing will be more challenging in Masiphumelele than in Klipfontein Glebe. However, using a 2 m social distancing measure, it is demonstrated that very large portions of Klipfontein Glebe would also be unable to effectively implement social distancing.

Conclusions: Due to the density of informal settlements, effectively implementing social distancing may be a challenge in informal settlements. This short communication uses dwelling outlines for informal settlements in the City of Cape Town to demonstrate that using a 2m measure, effective social distancing will be challenging.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cape Town; Informal settlements; social distancing; GIS; pandemic; outbreak; infectious disease; public health; geographic data; risk


This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://publichealth.jmir.org, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

Cite as

Gibson, L. & Rush, D. 2020, 'Novel Coronavirus in Cape Town Informal Settlements: Feasibility of using informal dwelling outlines to identify high risk areas for COVID-19 transmission from social distancing perspective.', JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, 6(2), article no: e18844. https://doi.org/10.2196/18844

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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