New York residents caught walking outdoors were greeted with a talking drone this weekend warning pedestrians to “maintain social distancing.”
The disarming sight was reported over a Manhattan park on Saturday, reminiscent of drones used by the Communist Chinese government in January in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 5, 2020
“This is the Anti-COVID-19 volunteer drone task force,” a voice boomed from the drone seen in video footage in a tweet posted by CBS News.
“Please maintain a social distance of at least six feet. Again, please maintain social distancing,” the voice continued as New Yorkers walked, jogged and biked past.
“Please help stop the spread of this virus. Reduce the death toll and save lives. For your own safety and your families’ safety please maintain social distancing,” the drone advised. “Thank you for your cooperation. We are all in this together.”
The surreal scene seemed to be straight out of a science fiction movie but, as CBS News noted, the volunteer drone was being used to target New York residents still out of their homes in the state that makes up nearly half of coronavirus deaths in the country.
With over 123,000 confirmed cases and over 4,000 deaths, New York remains the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 3,000 of the fatalities coming from New York City alone.
Many social media reactions to the footage of the drone remarked that New York is following Beijing, referring to efforts by the Chinese government to tell citizens to wear masks while outside using drones. A video shared in a tweet by Global Times in January showed how people were essentially being watched and warned by the Communist government.
Chinese officials in rural areas are creatively using #drones to make sure local residents don‘t gather together without wearing masks during the nationwide battle against the #coronavirus. https://t.co/e6khcWvUrx pic.twitter.com/td7u1ZZ4Kz
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) January 31, 2020
But New York may not be the only American location to turn to drones in the battle against COVID-19. A report last month indicated that a police department in southern California was considering new ways to use drones such as adding speakers and possibly night vision cameras.
“We have not traditionally mounted speakers to our drones, but … if we need to cover a large area to get an announcement out, or if there were a crowd somewhere that we needed to disperse, we could do it without getting police officers involved,” Capt. Vern Sallee of the Chula Vista Police Department said in March, according to the Washington Examiner.
The CEO of a U.S.-based drone company revealed they are “working like crazy” to get drones to other law enforcement agencies.
“What we saw in China, and what we’re probably going to see around the world, is using drones with cameras and loudspeakers to fly around to see if people are gathering where they shouldn’t be, and telling them to go home,” Spencer Gore, chief executive of Impossible Aerospace, said. “It seems a little Orwellian, but this could save lives.”
Other nations have already turned to what Premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan, called new “draconian” measures.
“I understand this is extreme and draconian, this is not normal but we want to send a message to people,” he said last month referring to police drones equipped with lights, sirens and speakers being deployed to public spaces as Prime Minister Scott Morrison banned social gatherings of more than two people.
In Belgium, which has more than 20,000 cases of COVID-19, drones warned of the lockdown orders issued by the government.
Police drones are being used in Brussels to warn the public that lockdown is in force, and that social distancing regulations must be adhered to.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 23, 2020
Over in the UK, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson was just hospitalized over coronavirus symptoms, and Queen Elizabeth II made a rare television address to the nation, police have been using drones to shame Britons who venture out.
Hello @SKinnock we know celebrating your Dad’s birthday is a lovely thing to do, however this is not essential travel. We all have our part to play in this, we urge you to comply with @GOVUK restrictions, they are in place to keep us all safe. Thank you. ^cy
— South Wales Police | #StayHomeSaveLives (@swpolice) March 29, 2020
Despite posts yesterday highlighting issues of people still visiting the #PeakDistrict despite government guidance, the message is still not getting through. @DerPolDroneUnit have been out at beauty spots across the county, and this footage was captured at #CurbarEdge last night. pic.twitter.com/soxWvMl0ls
— Derbyshire Police (@DerbysPolice) March 26, 2020
Former UK Supreme Court judge Jonathan Sumption criticized the methods
“This is what a police state is like,” he told the BBC.
The sight of drones blaring orders at pedestrians in a U.S. city prompted much reaction on Twitter.
1984 is finally here
— D_Lewis (@siwel_d) April 5, 2020
Creepy was my first thought too.
— Capt Sharkey (@Charlen45192159) April 6, 2020
We’re living in a movie.
— e® (@echosworld) April 5, 2020
why are all these people out of their homes?!
— Halime Musser 🔴🖤🙅 (@halimemusser) April 5, 2020
Can’t wait until it’s armed. That’ll be the next “stage.”
— Too dow (@OwbToo) April 6, 2020
There’s nothing Orwellian about this. Perfectly normal.
— Lex (@lex6m) April 6, 2020
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