Coronavirus: Tunisia uses robots to police lockdown and tell people to stay home

Robot yells at baffled citizen to ‘hurry up!’

Simon Speakman Cordall
Wednesday 01 April 2020 12:21
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P-Guard robots patrol Tunisia's streets during coronavirus lockdown

Tunisia has turned to robots to help enforce its nationwide lockdown measures as the country continues to battle the global Coronavirus pandemic.

So far, ten people have died of the virus within Tunisia, with more than 300 people confirmed by the government as having been infected, though testing remains scarce.

The P Guard robots, manufactured by local company ENOVA can be operated remotely and come equipped with infrared cameras, which cover the robots surroundings, as well as a thermal camera and a sound and light alarm system.

The robots had initially been intended as surveillance tools, Radhouane Ben Farhat, ENOVA’s commercial director explained, able to operate through either Wifi or 4G at almost any geographic distance from the operator.

“It’s an outdoor robot,” Ben Farhat told The Independent, “It’s designed for difficult to access areas, whether those are in industrial areas, or mountainous or desert terrain,” he said.

It is unclear which public official spotted their potential for policing Tunisia’s lockdown, but their presence upon the streets of the capital have provided Tunis’ locked in residents with a sorely needed source of distraction.

In one vaguely surreal video, which has been widely shared across Tunisian social media, one of the robots can be seen interrogating a man breaking lockdown restrictions.

In the video, the man explains to the robot that he is leaving his house to buy cigarettes, before the operator instructs the transgressor to ‘hurry up!’

According to an Interior Ministry Spokesman, 1,031 individuals have been taken into custody since the nightly twelve hour curfew came into effect in mid March, after just 24 cases of the virus had been recorded.

A further 197 have been detained over flouting the country’s lockdown restrictions, limiting individual's access to public spaces, was introduced a few days later on March 20.

Nevertheless, though instances of the virus remain relatively low, the fragility of the country’s public healthcare system was likely prominent in lawmakers’ minds when deciding to introduce the measures to check its spread. One projection, put together by journalists from the investigative website Inkyfada highlighted both the low number of tests being carried out by the government, going on to suggest that, should its spread continue unabated, the country’s intensive care units risked being overwhelmed by the virus as early as mid April.

Addressing the parliament last Thursday, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh informed lawmakers that the country efforts to contain the virus’ spread had been commended by the World Health Organisation.

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