Robots and cameras: China’s sci-fi quarantine watch
Robots delivering meals, ghostly figures in hazmat suits and cameras pointed at front doors: China’s methods to enforce coronavirus quarantines have looked like a sci-fi dystopia for legions of people.
Authorities have taken drastic steps to ensure that people do not break isolation rules after China largely tamed the virus that had paralysed the country for months.
With cases imported from abroad threatening to unravel China’s progress, travellers arriving from overseas have been required to stay home or in designated hotels for 14 days.
Beijing loosened the rule in the capital this week — except for those arriving from abroad and Hubei, the province where the virus first surfaced late last year.
At one quarantine hotel in central Beijing, a guard sits at a desk on each floor to monitor all movements.
The solitude is broken by one of the few visitors allowed near the rooms: A three-foot-tall cylindrical robot that delivers water bottles, meals and packages to hotel guests.
The robot rides the elevator and navigates hallways on its own to minimise contact between guests and human staff.
When the robot arrives at its destination, it dials the landline phone in the room and informs the occupant in an eerie, childlike voice: “Hello, this is your service robot. Your order has arrived outside your room.”
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Cellphone monitoring is spreading with the coronavirus. So is an uneasy tolerance of surveillance.
ISTANBUL – A smartphone app in Turkey asked for Murat Bur’s identity number, his father’s name and information about his relatives. Did he have any underlying health conditions, the app wondered, presenting him a list of options. How was he feeling at the moment, it asked. It also requested permission to track his movements.
None of this felt intrusive to Bur, a 38-year old personal trainer. The app, which he had voluntarily downloaded, had helpfully warned him that his neighborhood was a coronavirus hot spot. “There are people in our country still having parties and picnics. I do not see the harm in people being followed,” he said. “There is an extraordinary situation in the world.”
To the feelings of fear, restlessness, insecurity and sorrow taking hold around the globe, the pandemic era has added another certainty: being watched.