Authorities in the UK have begun using drones to direct the public to comply with public health measures announced on Monday to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
On Thursday, the Neath Port Talbot Council, which serves the Welsh towns of Neath and Port Talbot, said it is working with local police and the Safer Neath Port Talbot Community Partnership to deploy drones "to distribute public information" in the area.
The police and community groups say they're focusing areas where people are not following government social distancing recommendations.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, health secretary Matt Hancock both test positive for COVID-19 coronavirusREAD MORE
"The drones are equipped with speakers that will transmit messages directly to the public," said the Neath Port Talbot Council via Twitter. "We are reminding residents to stay at home except for: shopping for necessities, obtaining medical supplies, one period of daily exercise, and traveling to and from essential work."
The post includes video of a drone lifting off from the pavement outside a SpecSavers optical retail store. A polite but emphatic voice can be heard from the drone's on-board speaker directing anyone within earshot to follow government rules and stay home.
The shadow of what appears to be the drone's operator can be seen at the left edge of the frame as the video begins, which calls into question the need for a drone in the first place.
Drones are now being used to distribute public information messages across NPT during the #coronavirus outbreak. We have teamed up with @swpolice to survey hotspots where people are not following government measures on social distancing 1/2 @saferneathpt @SWPNeath @SWPPortTalbot pic.twitter.com/9pbC6lKUyV— Neath Port Talbot Council (@NPTCouncil) March 26, 2020
As Twitter user Frazer Shaw pointed out the obvious, "You know you could do the same thing with an officer and a megaphone and it would have much less of a creepy 'Judge Dredd police vibe', right?"
South Wales Police didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
UK-based privacy group Big Brother Watch denounced the drone public announcement scheme as Orwellian. "Drones are an unnecessarily sinister way of communicating public health advice," the group said via Twitter. "It must stop."
There's no sign it will. Police in the UK have been testing drones at least since 2007 and they're increasingly used for law enforcement-oriented surveillance around the globe.
Derbyshire Police on Thursday published drone footage of scenic destination Curbar Edge in the Peak District National Park, Derbyshire, in an effort to shame people flouting government health guidance. The video scolds individuals walking dogs and taking pictures for engaging in non-essential activity.
Despite posts yesterday highlighting issues of people still visiting the #PeakDistrict despite government guidance, the message is still not getting through. @DerPolDroneUnit have been out at beauty spots across the county, and this footage was captured at #CurbarEdge last night. pic.twitter.com/soxWvMl0ls— Derbyshire Police (@DerbysPolice) March 26, 2020
"Whilst the government has advised to take one form of exercise a day, it is not appropriate to be getting in your car and travelling to take this exercise, particularly to a location, such as the Peak District that in normal times can become busy," the Derbyshire Police said.
On Friday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had tested positive for COVID-19. ®
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