Robots that deliver meals, ghost figures in Hazmat suits, and cameras pointed at front doors: China's methods of enforcing coronavirus quarantines looked like science fiction dystopia to human legions.
The authorities have taken drastic steps to ensure that people do not break the isolation rules after China has largely tamed the virus that has paralyzed the country for months.
Cases imported from abroad that threaten to unravel China's progress had overseas travelers to stay at home or in certain hotels for 14 days.
Beijing relaxed the rule in the capital this week, with the exception of those who arrived from abroad and Hubei, the province where the virus first appeared at the end of last year.
In a quarantine hotel in central Beijing, a security guard sits at a desk on each floor to monitor all movements.
The loneliness is broken by one of the few visitors who are allowed to stay near the rooms: a three-foot cylindrical robot that delivers water bottles, meals and packages to hotel guests.
The robot drives the elevator and navigates the aisles independently to minimize contact between guests and human personnel.
When the robot arrives at its destination, it dials the landline phone in the room and informs the occupant in an eerie, childish voice: "Hello, this is your service robot. Your order has arrived outside your room."
His stomach opens and the guest takes delivery items before the robot turns and rolls away.
Doctors in Hazmat suits go from room to room daily and remind inmates, including an AFP journalist who has been to Hubei, to measure their temperatures with the mercury thermometer provided at check-in and ask if symptoms are present.
Quarantined people elsewhere in the city have silent electronic alarms installed on their doors.
Officials hung on the door of each quarantined household and asked the neighbors to keep an eye on the limited residents.
In a residential area in Beijing, AFP officials said that quarantined people must inform community volunteers when they open their doors.
German journalist Friederike Boege started her second quarantine in Beijing on Sunday after returning from Hubei's capital, Wuhan.
The management of their building installed a camera in front of their door to monitor their movements.
"It's pretty scary how you get used to things like that," she told AFP.
"Aside from the camera, I think the guards and the cleaners on the premises would notify me if I went out," said Boege.
During her previous quarantine experience in March, when she returned from a trip to Thailand, a cleaning manager told the building management that she had gone downstairs to take out the trash.
"No human contact"
Total isolation has become a temporary norm for people who are in strict quarantine without a single visit to the grocery store or a walk to dissolve the monotony.
Joy Zhong, a 25-year-old media professional who returned to Beijing from a work trip to Wuhan's virus epicenter, spent three weeks without leaving a cramped room in another hotel in the Chinese capital.
There, the guests were not allowed to order their own food and instead received standardized meals.
Friends were allowed to bring packages to the front desk, which were then left outside the hotel rooms by employees who avoided direct contact with guests.
"Spending 21 days in a row without seeing a single person seemed to be extremely slow," Zhong told AFP.
However, not all people in quarantine are monitored as closely as those in Beijing.
Charlotte Poirot, a French teacher who came to China in late March – just before foreigners were banned from entering the country – spent two weeks in quarantine in a hostel in the southeastern city of Guangzhou.
She was locked up alone in a 10-bed room and meals were delivered to her door, and medical personnel came to check her temperature several times a day.
"They never closed the door and the (whole) process was based on trust," Poirot told AFP. "We all played the game without contesting it."
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)