How the world sees the COVID-19 pandemic

Photographers capture intimate images of isolation as the virus affects life from Spain to South Africa, England to Italy, Norway to New York.

Photograph by Camilla Ferrari
Read Caption
Milan, Italy
An early hot zone of COVID-19, Italy was the first European country to order a near-total lockdown. In their apartment, photographer Camilla Ferrari and her partner noticed how images of buildings outside began to merge with scenes inside.
Photograph by Camilla Ferrari
This story appears in the July 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine. A version of this story published on March 25, 2020.

When the world seems unkind, “home is the place where … they have to take you in,” wrote the poet Robert Frost. But in the era of a deadly virus that requires self-isolation for weeks on end, homes have become much more than sources of comfort and familiarity. We’ve turned them into schools and offices, centers of entertainment, and hot spots of tension. If boredom, stress, and anxiety could be harnessed for energy, they’d power the planet.

Photographers around the globe have captured images of this strange time, when we’re separated from each other by walls and windows. Seen together, the photos make us wonder, what even is a home? In a world plagued by COVID-19, the answer has increasingly become a measure of privilege. Do you have a home? Do you like being there? Are you confident you’ll be able to stay?

The images also show the different ways we respond to crisis and—even more revealing—what we consider essential. Age, location, and sometimes faith tend to influence one’s level of concern and feeling of vulnerability. Consider the Italian couple under self-imposed house arrest. The beachgoing Brazilians eager for time outside. Those starved of nature in urban dwellings in South Africa, New York, and Russia, who find balconies, fire escapes, anywhere at all, for gasps of wild air.

Though dread and disease cloud outlooks, there still are silver linings. Humans keep adapting; a rooftop becomes an exercise studio, and a wall a canvas for shadow dancing. When you take time to look, even dying flowers become a work of art. No one knows how long this will last, or how we’ll emerge on the other side. But as we’re all split apart, the least you can say is that we’re doing it together.

View Images
NESODDTANGEN, NORWAY Boe, four, plays a shadow monster game with her mother, Anna, before bedtime. Her father, a photographer, and her mother, a doctor, were challenged to find ways of keeping Boe entertained during the early days of lockdown.