Empty streets and disrupted lives: A world in the wake of coronavirus

It often feels as if the world is shrinking, that almost all of us are interconnected, our disparate cultures linked by things from Internet memes to the latest Netflix film. But in generations nothing has so bound the world together as the coronavirus pandemic. It quickly has become a common language: the fear, the helplessness, the unnerving empty streets and vacant parks and shuttered schools. Traveling by airplane and cruise ship and train, the virus ties Seoul to Tehran to Milan to Washington state, where it has spread at places of worship and conferences and offices and schools and markets. “This is a virus that knows no borders,” said Olaf Scholz, Germany’s vice chancellor and finance minister, urging people worldwide to use it as a rallying cry. “It actually shows that solidarity is the only way that we can move forward as human beings."

It often feels as if the world is shrinking, that almost all of us are interconnected, our disparate cultures linked by things from Internet memes to the latest Netflix film. But in generations nothing has so bound the world together as the coronavirus pandemic. It quickly has become a common language: the fear, the helplessness, the unnerving empty streets and vacant parks and shuttered schools. Traveling by airplane and cruise ship and train, the virus ties Seoul to Tehran to Milan to Washington state, where it has spread at places of worship and conferences and offices and schools and markets. “This is a virus that knows no borders,” said Olaf Scholz, Germany’s vice chancellor and finance minister, urging people worldwide to use it as a rallying cry. “It actually shows that solidarity is the only way that we can move forward as human beings."

Miami

Florida faces unique challenges amid the coronavirus outbreak, the health crisis posing potentially dire consequences for an aging population in a place that relies heavily on people wanting to visit. The cruise and travel industries already have been hit hard, with residents like Gabriella Simonelli, executive director of Perfection Travel in Miami, saying the coronavirus implications are ominous: “We survive through tourism." Her business has been issuing refunds for cruises and flights booked with her agency. Simonelli also said that she was scheduled to go on a cruise this week, but decided against it because of a recent cold she had. “What if they put me in quarantine? For me, it’s not worth it.”

Asma Ghazouani, a Fulbright scholar from Tunisia studying at Southern Illinois University, was at South Point Park in Miami Beach while on spring break, watching cruise ships pass by Wednesday. “Coronavirus for me is proof that we have reached the state of global connection," she said. “What happens in a specific country will affect others. It will affect the economy and global health.”

Cruise ships have been at the center of concerns about the coronavirus, with some ships having to sit in quarantine at sea and their passengers later having to spend time in federal quarantine upon return to the United States. There have been nearly 700 confirmed cases of coronavirus among cruise ship passengers and crew, and some cruise lines have suspended service during the outbreak.

Milan

The coronavirus has taken an outsized toll on Italy, with more than 15,000 confirmed covid-19 cases and more than 1,000 deaths, leading to a lockdown that has left parks and public spaces empty.

Every year at the end of February, an amusement park sets up in front of the Arena Civica. Children wait for it all year, and during its stay the park is one of the most crowded places in Milan. It is closed this year to lessen the spread of the coronavirus. Other public spaces are eerily silent, too, due to social distancing, with lone people taking breaks in places like Porta Venezia park.

The lockdown in Italy has imposed restrictions on 60 million people, part of a European outbreak that increased rapidly in scope and impact in a matter of days. The lockdown, and others like it, aimed to slow the spread of the virus. Italy’s outbreak and other hotspots in neighboring countries led President Trump to ban most foreign nationals traveling from Europe to the United States.

The fear is that much of Europe — and perhaps the United States — could face surges of coronavirus infections like the one in Italy in coming weeks. “Italy is about two weeks ahead of Britain and the rest of Europe,” said Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London. German officials said they worry that as much as 70 percent of its citizens could be infected if the spread is not brought under control. The emptiness of Italy’s public spaces could be mirrored elsewhere.

King County, Wash.

The first epicenter of the outbreak in the United States emerged in Kirkland, Wash., a community just outside Seattle. A nursing home, Life Care Center, saw more than 50 of its residents and staff fall ill during the outbreak and as of Friday 25 had died — accounting for more than half of all deaths related to covid-19 in the United States. The outbreak spurred restrictions on gatherings and cancellations of public events.

Sue Heale, executive director of Kirkland Academy of Music and Performance, moved her lessons online, providing digital instruction via video chat. Claire Raymond, 9, received piano instruction remotely to avoid the potential spread of the virus. “The biggest challenge is that this disease is moving so fast. Every day I wake up, and I have this huge weight of decision-making,” Heale says. “If we had to shut down, we would go out of business in two to four weeks.”

At Café Suisse in Seattle, Urs Berger waits for customers across the street from Amazon campus. He said loyal customers have kept him going at a time when authorities have implored residents to keep a distance from each other, saying not to sit “shoulder-to-shoulder” at the city’s establishments. The streets of Seattle have been empty in recent days.

Seoul

In South Korea, life in the entertainment districts is at a standstill. Video-game parlors, which are very popular, have been criticized for not being more careful about the virus. And food markets and restaurants are empty, dealing a blow to local businesses.

South Korea has been taking the virus outbreak seriously, doing more than 10,000 tests per day. The country has tested more than 240,000 people, or about one per every 250 people, among the highest testing rates in the world. From drive-through kiosks to hospitals to local clinics, hundreds of test sites are available across the country, and the tests are largely free. For the elderly or those too ill to step out, medics visit their homes to take swabs for testing.

South Koreans have been closing restaurants to help stop the spread of the virus. Some have waited in long lines to buy protective masks at pharmacies in Seoul.

Austin

So many things have been canceled or suspended because of the virus, from the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament to professional sporting events to Broadway shows. But the cancellation of the South by Southwest Festival in Austin this year — one of the signature annual things that “keeps Austin weird” — was a major disappointment to the Texas capital. Hotels and bars vowed to continue on with musical events and gatherings anyway.

At Feels So Good Records, a store in downtown Austin, the cancellation of South by Southwest is “a bummer but it’s not the end of the world,” said Felipe Granados, musician and co-owner of the store. “They’ll get the coronavirus under control and everyone will come back next year.” Crews took down banners for the event — also known as SXSW — an international interactive, film and music festival.

Blake Bermel, an artist who goes by the name “Mez Data,” said seven of his planned murals were canceled and that he estimates losing thousands of dollars because SXSW isn’t happening this year. He said a lot of local workers — artists, musicians, club owners — depend on this time of year. “I know that there are a lot of others that are happy they don’t have to deal with this headache, but for us it’s like, dude, this is our income, this is a substantial chunk of what we make throughout the year, so it’s really important.”

Yokohama, Japan

Chinatown in Tokyo has been abandoned, much like other Chinatowns around the world, one example of how some stereotypes are persistent. The coronavirus has had a huge effect in China, where there have been more than 80,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths — and in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe closed schools for a month after cases began to soar.

As streets lay empty in Chinatown, Japan has repeatedly insisted that postponing or canceling the Tokyo Olympics, slated for this summer, is not an option. The country is preparing for them as normal, although sporting events worldwide have been held without spectators or have been canceled outright.

About this story

Photo editing by Chloe Coleman, Karly Domb Sadof and Olivier Laurent. Design and development by Jake Crump.

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