Robots and cameras: China’s sci-fi quarantine enforcement

Food delivery robots, ghostly figures in combinations of hazardous materials, and cameras pointed at front doors: China’s methods of applying quarantines of coronaviruses resembled sci-fi dystopia for legions of people .

Authorities have taken drastic measures to ensure that people do not break the isolation rules after China has largely tamed the virus that had paralyzed the country for months.

With cases imported from abroad threatening to jeopardize China’s progress, travelers from abroad had to stay at home or in designated hotels for 14 days.

Beijing eased the rule in the capital this week – except for those arriving from abroad and from Hubei, the province where the virus first appeared at the end of last year.

In a quarantine hotel in central Beijing, a guard sits at a desk on each floor to monitor all movements.

Loneliness is broken by one of the few visitors allowed near the rooms: a three-foot-tall cylindrical robot that delivers bottles of water, meals and parcels to hotel guests.

The robot climbs into the elevator and walks alone through the corridors to minimize 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 a strange and childish voice: “Hello, it’s your service robot. Your order arrived outside your room . “

Her belly opens and the guest takes the delivery items before the robot turns around and rolls around.

Doctors in safety suits go from room to room daily to remind occupants, including an AFP reporter who was in Hubei, to take their temperature with the mercury thermometer provided during check-in and to ask for there are symptoms.

People under house quarantine elsewhere in the city have installed silent electronic alarms on their doors.

Officials put a notice on the door of each quarantined household asking neighbors to keep an eye on the confined residents.

In a residential complex in Beijing, officials told AFP that people under house quarantine must inform community volunteers every time they open their doors.

Friederike Boege, a German journalist, began her second quarantine in Beijing this year Sunday after returning from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei.

The management of his building installed a camera in front of his door to monitor his movements.

“It’s pretty scary to know how you get used to such things,” she told AFP.

“Outside the camera, I believe the wardens and the complex cleaner would report me if I went out,” said Boege.

During her previous quarantine experiment in March after returning from a trip to Thailand, she was reported to the management of the building by a cleaner to have come down to take out the trash.

No human contact

Total isolation has become a temporary norm for those in strict quarantine, without even a single trip to the grocery store or a march to break the monotony.

Joy Zhong, a 25-year-old media professional returning to Beijing from a work trip to the viral epicenter of Wuhan, spent three weeks without leaving a cramped room at another hotel in the Chinese capital.

There, guests were not allowed to order their own food and were given standardized meals instead.

Friends were allowed to bring parcels to reception, which were then left outside hotel rooms by staff who avoided direct contact with customers.

“Spending 21 days in a row without seeing a single person was like time passing extremely slowly,” Zhong told AFP.

However, not everyone in quarantine is as closely watched as those in Beijing.

Charlotte Poirot, a French teacher who arrived in China at the end of March – just before the introduction of a ban on foreigners entering the country – spent two weeks in quarantine in a youth hostel in Guangzhou, in the south-east from the city.

She was confined alone in a room with 10 bunk beds, with meals delivered to her door and medical staff coming to check her temperature several times a day.

“They never locked the door and the (all) process was based on trust,” Poirot told AFP. “We all played the game without questioning.”