Drone on virus patrol busts Chinese villagers' mahjong game

BEIJING (Reuters) - Rather than risk being infected with the coronavirus, officials in some rural parts of China are literally watching over citizens, using drones to deter outdoor gatherings amid an epidemic that has already killed 361 people in the country.

A video clip posted on Weibo, a microblogging website akin to Twitter, showed a group of people playing mahjong in a village near the southwestern city of Chengdu being told to disperse after being spotted by a camera mounted on a patrolling drone.

“Playing mahjong outside is banned during the epidemic. You have been spotted. Stop playing and leave the site as soon as possible,” an official orders the villagers through a microphone while watching footage sent by the drone to his screen. “Don’t look at the drone, child; ask your father to leave immediately,” the official tells a boy seen looking curiously up at the drone.

Regardless of the severe health scare, some Chinese netizens on Weibo were amused by the clip, which quickly went viral.

“So hardcore! High-tech makes life more efficient,” said one Weibo-user.

The Chinese government has been calling on people to stay at home and try to avoid gathering together to prevent the spread of the virus. Shops, movie theaters and restaurants in some places have also been shut down.

More than a dozen cities in Hubei, including the provincial capital of Wuhan where the virus first emerged, are in virtual lockdown.

Reporting by Lusha Zhang and Se Young Lee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore