China is already known for its rapid adoption of drones for a wide array of uses. Now they’re becoming essential tools in the fight against the new coronavirus outbreak that has taken more than 370 lives and infected thousands.

Various places throughout China are using drones to carry out tasks like spraying disinfectant over villages, dispersing public gatherings and facilitating construction.

Across the country, many villagers, companies and local governments are mounting disinfectant gears on their crop-spraying drones. A villager in the province of Shandong repurposed his own drones to spray disinfectant around his village spanning 16,000 square meters. 

A villager in Shandong uses a drone to spray disinfectant over his village. (Picture: Heze Highspeed Police 5th Squad/Weibo)

Chinese agriculture technology company XAG also claimed that it sent a fleet of drones to spray disinfectant around a local community in Shandong. The company said its fleet covered over 300,000 square meters in less than four hours. 

For drones that aren’t big enough to hold canisters of disinfectant, local governments are mounting megaphones on them to disperse public gatherings and scold those who aren’t wearing masks in public. 

In a town in Chengdu, a drone piloted by government officials busted a gathering of people who were playing a game of mahjong in an alley. Although mahjong is a popular holiday pastime for many Chinese people, the government managed to disperse the group by shaming them in public with a megaphone.

Similar events of public shaming are seen in many cities and villages across China, albeit often in a more humorous way.

To contain the spread of the virus, drones are also used to monitor activities such as traffic and waste disposal. In Shanghai, drones have been deployed at inter-city roads for monitoring while officials check travelers’ temperatures. In Zhongshan, drones are used to oversee the disposal of medical waste coming out of hospitals.

On a smaller scale, a community manager in Jiangxi reportedly used a drone with a thermometer to check the temperature of residents.

Lighting drones also came in handy in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, where two large temporary hospitals had to be built in a matter of days as the city’s hospital beds rapidly filled up. In the absence of street lamps and construction lights at the site, six large lighting drones hover 50 meters above the ground.

Each lighting drone reportedly can cover 6,000 square meters and last for 10 hours on a single charge. They’re also said to be 80% more efficient than traditional street lamps and can facilitate construction by being easily moved from one spot to another.