The coronavirus has currently affected 28 territories around the world but is concentrated in mainland China. The country accounts for 42,638 confirmed cases out of the 43,104 global ones, and 1,016 deaths out of the total of 1,018.
However, numbers don't necessarily paint a good picture of how the epidemic has changed the country. Photos do. And visual storyteller Nicoco shared a personal project that achieves just that.
One Person City is a photo series that documents Shanghai during the coronavirus outbreak. It does an excellent job of revealing the ghostly emptiness, isolation, and fear that the virus has inflicted on the 24-million-people metropolis, giving us a better understanding of what the locals are actually going through.
"One Person City began as a curiosity to see how a sleepless, major international city would react to uncertainty," Nicoco told Bored Panda. "The coronavirus only became nationwide news after Wuhan was quarantined in late January. I set out to explore a few days afterward, which coincided with the official Chinese New Year celebration. My experience visiting popular Chinese sites during the New Year festivities is similar to being in New York City during the New Year ball drop. It is crowded, crowded, very crowded. It was so crowded that I decided from my singular experience in 2014 to never go out during the holiday again."
At first, Nicoco didn't know what to expect. Eventually, the photographer found emptiness filled with fear. "My experience living in Shanghai during the coronavirus outbreak ... [could be described as] isolation. It's more than people avoiding areas they think will be crowded. It's people not leaving their homes entirely. In hindsight, I vastly underestimated the Chinese memory of SARS from 2002. Over several days of biking, walking, and metro-ing around the city, most of the people I saw were janitorial staff, security officers, and cashiers. It is a Where's Waldo? of millions of people. There are many faces to the pandemic, yet for most, it will seemingly have no face at all."
All of this is really different from what Nicoco had experienced before. "I've been living in Shanghai for about six years. It is an amazing city where you see elders in tracksuits doing synchronized dancing, feel safe running late at night as a woman, and can access much of East Asia and Southeast Asia. It is a place of rich history where change happens instantaneously. In the time I have been privileged to live here, I've watched Shanghai transform from a cash-based society to completely mobile payments. Thousands of public bikes have seemingly materialized from air, and new metro stations open every year. In the '90s, people saw Tokyo as the city of the future. Today, that city is Shanghai."
"The virus has robbed Chinese people from what should be the happiest time of year," Nicoco said. "People are worried about getting sick, their loved ones getting sick, resource shortages, losing their salaries, and much broader things like months of hardship that are likely ahead. The objective of One Person City is to capture what this fear looks like: it's invisible and unknown. I sneezed and a woman two meters away shot a wary glance at me, then took an extra step back."
According to Nicoco, for the past two weeks, everything has stopped. "The government extended the national holiday, and only critical businesses are allowed to open (for example, grocery stores, sanitation and water facilities, etc.). Everything's empty. Fresh products were completely bought out. As of Monday, February 10th, most businesses are allowed to reopen, but the city remains eerily empty as people stay self quarantined in their homes. There is a lot of anxiety in the air."
Working on the series made Nicoco think about class privilege a lot. "As I traveled around the city and saw primarily low-wage workers such as sales clerks, janitors, and security guards, it was when I realized these people would be considered more fortunate than workers who are unpaid during this period or simply fired."
However, there were moments of levity as well. "On one day, I biked down streets filled with laundry hanging off every railing, street pole, and tree in sight. On another day, I saw a long queue for (of all things) bubble milk tea. These are much-appreciated signs that despite the very legitimate fears and concerns, life still goes on and the city will eventually come back to life."