December 3, 2023

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Drones, time-slots give Albania’s virus lockdown a hi-tech edge

TIRANA (Reuters) – Buzzing overhead, the police drone warns shoppers in Tirana that curfew is approaching and they need to go home, having run checks through the day to make sure no one runs past their allotted 90-minute windows for outside activities.

Albania has taken a hi-tech approach to monitoring a coronavirus lockdown in place since March 15, co-opting drones that were previously used to detect cannabis fields and speeding cars.

“Technology is helping us greatly in identifying persons who violate the quarantine. It has had great results,” said policewoman Katerina Monguli, 23, who operates one of about 20 of the eyes in the sky being deployed in the capital.

Earlier in the day via its loudspeaker, her drone instructed people queuing outside a bank to stand further apart, and told a pedestrian to wait for a police patrol to check his status.

All residents, barring exempt categories such as truck drivers, are entitled to daily 90-minute windows for visiting shops, banks and pharmacies, and must apply for them on line. The period they chose is monitored via a government database.

“When we need groceries and other basic needs… it is very limited time but having in mind the difficult situation we all have to do our part,” said Taulant Nukaj, 31, a marketing manager who has been working from home for over a month.

So far, the impact of the virus in Albania has been comparatively mild, with 518 confirmed cases and 26 deaths, and only a small minority of its 2.8 million population have been caught breaking the rules.

Police have suspended around 1,800 driving licences and fined some 7,000 people 10,000 leke ($87) each for missing their time-slots, a police spokesman said.

The 900-gramme (2 lb) drones also help enforce Albania’s 5:30 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew.

“(It) can film persons even at night with its thermal camera, and it also has night lights,” Monguli told Reuters TV.

Reporting by Benet Koleka, Editing by John Stonestreet

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