In China’s latest bid to stop a new deadly virus from spreading, authorities are turning to sophisticated surveillance state tactics to enforce quarantines.
At least 60 million people in central China have been in a government-ordered lockdown since Jan. 23 as health officials scramble to contain a growing global health emergency. In China, those who choose to break quarantine orders are being caught and scolded not by a police officer, but by a drone.
Videos released by Chinese state media outlets show police-operated drones confronting citizens in public, warning them to take better precautions against the virus.
In one video, the aircraft hovers near an elderly woman and addresses her through a loudspeaker, telling her she needs to wear a breathing mask for protection.
“Yes auntie, this drone is speaking to you,” the voice says, according to translation in a report by China’s state-owned Global Times.
“You shouldn’t walk about without wearing a mask. You’d better go home, and don’t forget to wash your hands.”
The woman looks at the drone, wide-eyed, and scurries off.
In another video, shared on Twitter by Chinese state news agency Xinhua, a drone appears to approach an elderly couple on the street and urges them to “have better self-protection.”
“Return home immediately,” the official tells them through the speaker.
The tactic is even being used to break up social gatherings. In another clip, taken from Chinese social media platform Weibo by Reuters and shared widely online, a drone is used by police to advise a group of people playing mahjong to do so indoors.
“Playing mahjong outside is banned during the epidemic. You have been spotted,” authorities tell the group through the drone’s loudspeaker. “Stop playing and leave the site as soon as possible.”