In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic affected the daily life of people around the world. With varying lockdown restrictions and sanitary measures put into place worldwide, amateur images shared online have illustrated the impacts of the virus. Thanks to our Observers our team was able to reveal the events and phenomena that have taken place around the world, even in hard-to-reach, isolated areas.
All over the world, Covid-19 has taken citizens and authorities by surprise. To document this outbreak, many citizens decided to film what they saw in order to shine a light on injustices or worrying sanitary conditions.
It all began in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Over the first few weeks of the crisis, our team was able to build a network of Observers there.
Fangbin sounds the alarm on worsening conditions in Wuhan
Fangbin, a shopkeeper and resident of Wuhan, braved government censorship to share images of his city’s overcrowded hospitals.
At a time when very little information on the reality of the health situation in Wuhan was reaching the outside world, Fangbin told us:
I honestly didn’t know anything was seriously wrong until the town was put under quarantine. I went to the hospital and it was packed with people. That’s when I realised that Wuhan was the centre of the epidemic and that the hospitals were at the heart of that centre.
These hospitals are where the national television channels like Hubei and the local Wuhan channels should be going to interview people. But no one was going there. So I thought – if they don’t want to go there, then I’ll go and film what is happening.
After publishing his videos, Fangbin was arrested and taken to the police station on February 1; he was released the next day.
Read on the Observers >> ‘Go get a warrant!’: Wuhan shopkeeper defies police over coronavirus videos
French student quarantined in Wuhan shares her experience
Other inhabitants of Wuhan, such as the French student Amélie Chapalain, wanted to document the daily life of the first people to be quarantined.
Read on the Observers >> French student Instagrams life in Wuhan under coronavirus quarantine
She shared images of empty streets and shopping centres, as well as supermarkets flooded with shoppers stocking up for the quarantine. At the time, she was hesitant to be repatriated to France, thinking that “it is totally possible that, two weeks from now, everything will be back to normal”. She finally returned to France in February, quarantining with other French people returning from Wuhan.
In Guangzhou, online rumours blame African immigrants for a new wave of infections
As the city of Guangzhou emerged from its lockdown at the end of March, rumours began to spread about a new wave of contamination. Some people online pointed the finger at the city’s African community and the situation escalated: African nationals were kicked out of hotels, barred from returning to their homes or even evicted.
Read on the Observers >> “They treat us like we’re the virus”: Africans evicted from housing in Chinese city
In Iran, authorities accused of downplaying the number of deaths
At first, the Iranian government denied the circulation of the virus in their country, with supporters citing “rumours” from opposition parties related to an upcoming parliamentary election.
By March, the official number of deaths had reached 354, with 9,000 infected. However, numerous testimonies and amateur videos documented a much more dire situation.
Read on the Observers >> Authorities in Iran ‘hiding’ COVID-19 deaths by listing other causes on death reports
Families in Iraq recover bodies of loved ones buried in makeshift graves
When the impact of the pandemic led to overcrowded morgues in Iraq in mid-March, authorities designated special burial grounds for victims of the virus. This soon inspired fear from local residents who worried that the virus could be contracted from these bodies.
By September, families were able to exhume their loved ones in order to bury them in family plots or cemeteries closer to their homes. Some, however, were shocked to find the deceased either missing or not buried in accordance to Islamic customs.
Read on the Observers >> Iraqi families retrieve bodies of loved ones buried during Covid-19 lockdown
In India, patients treated next to dead bodies as hospital conditions worsen
As the toll of the virus worsened, India, like many other countries, saw their hospitals overrun with patients. In May, two videos began to circulate on social media which showed patients with Covid-19 being treated in close proximity to deceased victims of the virus. According to a doctor at one of these hospitals, families of Covid-19 victims refused to pick up the bodies of deceased relatives, for fear of catching the virus. This further increased the strain on hospital doctors, nurses, and ambulance drivers.
Read on the Observers >> Videos show Indian hospitals treating Covid-19 patients next to dead bodies
In Colombian prisons, poor sanitary conditions spark riots
In Colombia, the month of March was marked by a wave of prison riots, as prisoners feared the spread of the virus in overcrowded conditions where social distancing and barrier gestures were impossible.
An inmate from La Picota, a prison in Bogota, testified and sent several videos to our editorial staff. He recounted that gloves and masks had to be “smuggled in” and that some inmates went so far as to burn mattresses and clothing or organise escape attempts.
Read on the Observers >> Covid-19 sparks deadly riots in Colombia’s prisons: “If the virus gets in here, we’re done for”
Migrants in Niger protest conditions of quarantine camp
Sub-Saharan African migrants who were kicked out of Algeria in April awaited repatriation at a quarantine camp in northern Niger. Place under a lockdown for more than three weeks, a group of desperate migrants protested and broke down the door of a shop, stealing goods. One of our Observers, a migrant in the camp, described the conditions as “unbearable”, saying that many were still wearing the dirty clothes they had arrived in, and that no officials had come to see them.
Read on the Observers >> Migrants in Niger protest seemingly endless quarantine
Migrant workers in France highlight horrendous living conditions
Migrant workers living in a centre in the suburbs of Paris sounded the alarm on unsatisfactory living conditions, sharing photos and videos of dirty crowded spaces with us. The migrants and asylum seekers reported desperately trying to isolate, despite living in spaces of only 7 m². The residents also had to share common spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms with their neighbours. “When Covid-19 hit, I realised it would be impossible to practise lockdown in the centre,” one of our Observers, who decided to leave the centre, told us, before two residents died from Covid-19.
Read on the Observers >> France’s overcrowded centres for migrant workers turn deadly during pandemic
Struck by both pandemic and economic crisis, Venezuelans reluctantly return home
The lockdown measures to combat the pandemic adopted by many countries in South America in March had serious economic consequences. Many migrant workers, particularly Venezuelans, lost their jobs and were forced to return to their home country, also in the midst of a serious economic crisis.
Our team was able to meet with three of them to understand why so many Venezuelans – more than 40,000 by authorities’ estimates – decided to make the long journey home.
Read on the Observers >> By bus or on foot: the long road home for Venezuelans stuck abroad during the pandemic