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I Photographed the Surreal Week Coronavirus Gripped My City


Two weeks ago Prague was thronged with tourists and businesses were humming as the city headed into a long-awaited spring. Today the lanes and famous squares of my adopted town stand virtually empty, nearly all businesses are shut, locals are confined indoors for all but “essential” trips outside, and facemasks are mandatory for anyone who steps into public transport.

I photographed this surreal situation as it escalated, and as new measures attempting to halt the spread of the coronavirus were imposed nearly daily. Here is what I watched unfold.

March 13: A waitress writes her café’s new opening hours after the Czech government announced all restaurants and bars would need to close at 8pm from March 13 onwards. The measure lasted just one day before almost all businesses were told to close completely.
March 13: The gates to the Prague castle stand shut, and the guardhouses empty.
The empty space around the castle, which was locked shut on March 11 to prevent tourists thronging together at the famous site. This is the first time the castle guards have left their posts for an extended period since the Soviet-led invasion of Prague in 1968.
March 13: Tourists, one carrying a baby, with surgical masks. At that time masks were still a rare sight on the street.
March 13: Locals stocking up on alcohol, including the beloved Czech liquor Becherovka.
March 13: A waiter in a restaurant where just one couple were eating when I shot this photo shortly after 7pm. The restaurant had to close at 8pm that night.
March 13: This corridor is usually one of the busiest areas of Prague’s seedy tourist nightlife spot. It was just after 8pm on a Friday night when I stood here, alone for several minutes, to take this photo.
March 13: Tape blocking people from nearing the driver of a Prague bus. The cobweb-like barriers were installed in all of the city’s busses to prevent bus drivers’ exposure to passengers.
March 13: A shelf which sold hand sanitisers and anti-bacterial soap stands empty. Most of the rest of the supermarket was well stocked, though there was some shortage of meat.
March 13: A food court forced to shut at 8pm.
March 15: This was the moment when it hit home to me just how consequential these events are for Prague. The space in front of Prague’s astronomical clock (left) is the most famous place in the city, and I have never – not at any hour of the day or night, not in winter rain or summer storms, seen it emptied of people.
March 15: Emptied streets in Prague’s Mala Strana district.
March 15: Prague’s old town square.
March 15: Lanes in Prague’s usually packed old town.
March 15: An empty bridge on Sunday morning. Later that day the Czech government banned people from venturing outside for “non-essential” reasons, amid other drastic measures aimed at stopping people grouping together.
March 17: Commuters emerge from the metro wearing facemasks. From Tuesday onwards, people using Prague’s public transport system are required to wear facemasks.
March 17: A man steps out of a metro carriage wearing a Guy Fawkes mask.
March 17: Prague’s mayor said on Twitter: “On Prague public transport, it is mandatory to have a covered mouth and nose! Whether you have medical masks, self-made masks, or use a scarf, anything is better than nothing.”
March 17: An empty subway station entrance on March 17. The clock shows 07:36, usually peak time for Prague’s metro.
March 17: A metro platform shortly before 8am. People are being encouraged to work from home wherever possible.
March 17: Shortly before I wrote this account on Tuesday evening, it was announced face coverings would be required in most indoor settings. As of writing, the Czech republic has reported 396 cases of coronavirus but no deaths from the disease.

About the author: Amos Chapple is a New Zealand born, Europe-based photographer and writer whose work has been published in most of the world’s major news titles. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.