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Ghost cities in a COVID-19 world

Prague's Old Town Square, devoid of tourists amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Screencap of video by Lukas/Youtube.

Check out Global Voices’ special coverage of the global impact of COVID-19.

We often associate the sight of an empty city with science fiction.

Movies such as “The Omega Man” (1971), “I am Legend” (2007), and many others come to mind. They all feature memorable shots of their protagonists walking through deserted streets in post-apocalyptic cities whose bustling life had been decimated by a pandemic, a zombie apocalypse, or an alien invasion.

But such scenes are now a reality in several parts of the world, as humanity desperately tries to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. One in every three people in the world are, right now, under some sort of lockdown.

With a community of writers and translators spanning over 100 countries, Global Voices has compiled a list of videos showing emptied cities from around the globe.

North Macedonia

With 854 cases of COVID-19 confirmed, and 38 deaths by the disease, North Macedonia has imposed a nationwide lockdown and a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays, as well as a full curfew on weekends.

This video by Bube Domazetov shows a deserted center of the capital Skopje. It was recorded on March 28.

Filip Stojanovski, Global Voices’ regional editor for Central and Eastern Europe, commented:

The only time when you can see the streets of Skopje without a lot of people is during summer heat waves or the holiday season. The video feels unreal, almost as if the footage is artificial, like looking at a CGI 3D architectural model of the place.

Czech Republic

The capital of the Czech Republic is one of the most visited cities in Europe — it receives an average of 8 million tourists a year, over six times its resident population.

The country has been under lockdown since March 16, with only grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and take-away restaurants allowed to operate. Over 5,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, and over 143 people have died by April 13.

Filip Noubel, Global Voices’ managing editor, a Czech native and long-time Prague resident, said:

Seeing those historical landmarks free of crowds feels both unreal and liberating, as the city definitely suffers from over-tourism. Suddenly, the city is returned to us, the residents, and we can't stop taking pictures of a deserted Charles Bridge, an empty Old Town Square.

This video by vlogger Lukas recorded on March 22 shows an empty Prague.

France

One of the city's main football clubs, the Olympique de Marseille, plays its anthem, as sung by the fans, in the stadium's loudspeakers at 8 p.m., every night.

“It's very eerie,” says Claire Ulrich, who translates to Global Voices’ French version.

More than 130,000 cases have been confirmed in France, including over 1,700 in the province Alpes-Côte d'Azur where Marseille is located.

Here's a tweet by the club:

Tweet: Your voice resounds every evening at 8 p.m. at Orange Velodrome [stadium] to support our everyday heroes.
The daily fight continues with OM.
Song lyrics: “To arms / To arms / We are the citizens of Marseille / And we will win / Go OM!”

Australia

This video by Andaman, a professional drone filming services in Melbourne, shows the 5 million-strong city as if it had stopped in time.

Contributor Kevin Rennie, who lives in Melbourne, said:

A city of over 5 million people, well known for its very heavy traffic, both cars and pedestrians around the central business district (CBD). It's even quieter in the days after this video was taken.

It is reminiscent of scenes from Stanley Kramer's 1959 Hollywood blockbuster “On the Beach,” starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardiner. It was about the end days after a nuclear war.

Afghanistan

Khojasta Sameyee, who reports on her native Afghanistan for Global Voices, shared a video she made herself driving the streets of the Kabul. She says:

The video shows the third day of quarantine in Kabul city. The government has locked down Kabul city for more than three weeks since March 28, and the video shows a usually very crowded area of Kabul called Qale-e-Fethullah.

The reported positive cases of the coronavirus in Afghanistan reached 665 on April 13.

More recent cases include 16 in Kabul, eight in Herat, two in Kandahar, two in Logar, two in Daikundi, two in Takhar, one in Bamiyan and one in Parwan.

Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi capital is widely known for its traffic woes, but since the government ordered general public holidays on March 26, the 21 million-strong city gained a cleaner look.

Here is a video of Dhaka from above, uploaded to YouTube by Naibur Rahman Joy on March 29, 2020. The main streets are almost deserted with the odd vehicle plying, while boats and ferries remain neatly parked in the Buriganga river.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh as of April 13, 2020, is 803 with 39 deaths.

India

On March 22, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for an unprecedented “Janata Curfew” (peoples’ curfew) from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

With the exception of essential and emergency services, all shops and services were closed during the “people's curfew,” as well as most public transport. On March 24, a 21-day lockdown began. The people's curfew was a trial for the actual, much longer lockdown, which proved to be more challenging for the Indian Government in terms of managing the movement of people.

The YouTube channel of Indian Express Online published a video with stunning visuals of different Indian cities under lockdown — including Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Pune, Chandigarh, and Ludhiana.

India has registered 9,635 COVID-19 cases with 331 deaths as of April 13, 2020.

Nepal

Nepal announced a week-long nationwide lockdown on March 24 which was later extended until April 15. As of April 13, Nepal has confirmed 14 COVID-19 cases and no deaths.

On YouTube, there are plenty of drone videos of different Nepali cities under the lockdown, such as Hetauda Bazar, Pokhara, and Dharan.

Here is one of the Harisiddhi suburb in Lalitpur, a city at the edge of the capital Kathmandu, uploaded by Highlights Kathmandu:

Pakistan

The Sindh Province of Pakistan, of which Karachi is the capital, entered a 14-day lockdown on March 24.

This drone video of Karachi, a city of 16 million people, shows empty streets just before the lockdown. It was uploaded by Shahtaj Bhutto.

Pakistan has confirmed 5,496 cases with 93 deaths as of April 13, 2020.

Argentina

Romina Navarro, a Global Voices contributor who lives in Buenos Aires, shared this video from Argentina by the daily newspaper La Nación.

Argentina has registered 2,208 cases as of April, as well as 97 deaths. A nationwide quarantine has been in place since March 20.

Romina says:

What strikes me most is the absence of the crazy, noisy traffic and crowded sidewalks that I used to hate of Buenos Aires, and now somehow I miss them. The capital city that usually was lively and sleepless now seems sad and sleepy, but still so beautiful.

New York

The metropolitan area of New York City and New Jersey is the new epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. New York state has registered 195,031 cases by April 13, out of 500,000 in the whole of the US.

Shanori Samea, who writes about Afghanistan for Global Voices, is a graduate student at Columbia University, in New York City. She shared this video by Reuters showing the city's empty subway:

Nigeria

Ọmọ Yoòbá, who's translation manager for Yorùbá in Global Voices, shared a video he made in Nigeria's, and Sub-Saharan Africa, largest city, Lagos, with the following explanation:

Lagos, popularly called Lasgidi by the youth population in Nigeria is famous for its busy and bustling culture, but it has ceased to bubble for 10 days now. The part of Lagos in this video is Òkè Afá, along the Ìsọlọ̀ Èjìgbò road, however with the lockdown, people are still seen moving about, some taking a walk, jogging, some to buy food, while others are out to do one thing or the other.

Has your city, town or village been affected by a lockdown, too? Is there a video? Share links in the comments!

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