‘The strictness of the quarantine shocked me’ The empty megacity of Zhengzhou through the lens of Russian photographer Kira Golikova
It’s been more than three weeks since the coronavirus COVID-19 began spreading in China. In that time, photojournalist Kira Golikova has been living in Zhengzhou, a large city about 500 kilometers (311 miles) from Wuhan, where the virus was first detected. In words and in pictures, Golikova described what it’s like to live in a city more populous than the Chicago metropolitan area when there’s almost nobody left on the streets.
About 10 million people live in Zhengzhou, but the city emptied out back at the end of January, when New Year celebrations got going in China. Most of the people who live here left to celebrate in their hometowns.
When the outbreak started, public transport in Zhengzhou was cut down, and the intercity buses were all cancelled. A little while after that, most stores and other public places closed their doors, too, except for the supermarkets and smaller stands that only carry necessities. Even the KFC near my building where I usually buy coffee is closed.
The strictness of the quarantine shocked me. Some apartment buildings are only letting their residents leave twice a week, and they have to use special tickets to do so. Anyone who comes in from other countries has to stay locked in their apartment for two weeks. They seal the doors and have assistants do their grocery shopping for them. In our housing complex, people wearing red armbands have started making appearances — they’re like volunteer guards or civil defense members — and there’s a document check every time you go in.
When I walk around the suburbs, I rarely encounter other pedestrians, and they don’t take their masks off even when the streets are empty. On one hand, this atmosphere holds a kind of attraction because it’s practically impossible to see China so empty under any other circumstances. On the other hand, though, it’s quite scary.
Now, Zhengzhou is gradually coming to life again. There are more pedestrians out and about, and the cafés and restaurants are starting to open, though it’s just for deliveries so far. Still, the city looks really empty even now. You can see what’s left of the New Year in the central square: decorations, empty trays covered in trash, plastic bags, boxes for noodles that were never used. There aren’t any masks in the pharmacies, and I don’t know how I’m going to go outside when my supply runs out — I only have five left.
That said, I think the panic around the coronavirus is a bit exaggerated. I would like to see people treating the news more critically and trying not to spread unverified information. Otherwise, you can end up on the brink of a mass frenzy.