Empty Stores, Deserted Streets: The Economics of the Coronavirus

As governments worldwide battle the coronavirus with curfews and other restrictions, businesses that rely on foot traffic and crowds of people find themselves without customers — and income. These photos show what it’s like to try to make a living in this new world of abandoned streets and empty stores.

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Mexico City, Mexico

Luis Rafael Cortés, from left, Alejandro Aparicio, Jovani Aparicio Rafael and Raúl Rafael roam the streets of Mexico City playing music. The musicians travel every month between San Miguel Ahuehuetitlán, a town 300 kilometers (186 miles) away in Oaxaca, and Mexico City, where they make their living playing for tips on the normally busy streets.

The group has seen a drastic decline in traffic since arriving in Mexico City on April 2, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, they worry about returning home at the end of the month.

“They called us from home to tell us to stay here,” Cortés says, referring to his family’s request that they not return to avoid infecting anyone in the town of about 2,000 residents. Cortés couldn’t tell if they were joking or not.

Mexico has reported 6,875 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 546 deaths as of April 18, according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.

Click play on the video above to hear the quartet’s interpretation of “Un viejo amor,” a traditional bolero song. The lyrics say: “An old love/ Is neither forgotten nor abandoned/ An old love/ Leaves your soul, but never says goodbye.”

Carolina López, GPJ Mexico

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Oaxaca, Mexico

José Leyva makes his living weaving on this old wooden loom inside his home in Oaxaca’s historic Barrio de Xochimilco neighborhood. The spread of the coronavirus throughout Mexico hasn’t prevented him or his sons from making textiles, but it has hurt their business.

“We’re not making sales because no one is coming to buy from us,” says Leyva. “But it’s important to keep working and have tablecloths and bedspreads for when we can sell them.”

Mexico’s government has issued a nationwide stay-at-home order and the suspension of all nonessential activities until at least May 17.

Ena Aguilar Peláez, GPJ Mexico

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San Juan, Puerto Rico

Rafael Varona feeds his roosters in the Río Piedras neighborhood of San Juan. Before the Puerto Rican government imposed a strict curfew on residents on March 15, Varona was training his roosters for cockfighting competitions. Now, during the quarantine, he feeds them but has stopped exercising them.

Cockfighting is a popular pastime throughout Puerto Rico, but the United States government introduced legislation in 2018 banning the sport.

Puerto Rico’s legislature passed a law in December 2019 allowing the sport to continue – flying in the face of the federal ban. Then in March, the legislature petitioned the U.S. Congress to pass a law allowing for a five-year transition period until the sport is banned.

There are more than 70 cockpits throughout Puerto Rico, and more than 11,000 people work in the industry, according to the proposed legislation.

Puerto Ricans have been advised to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary, and all nonessential businesses have been closed until May 3.

Puerto Rico has 1,118 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of April 18. A total of 60 people have died.

Ishbel Cora Rodríguez, GPJ Puerto Rico

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Kampala, Uganda

Rose Ssemakula stands in her empty bridal shop in Kampala’s city center. Uganda has issued a nationwide curfew and placed a strict ban on public gatherings of more than five people. Weddings and religious gatherings have been suspended until at least May 5.

“People can’t book because they don’t know how long the ban will take,” says Ssemakula.

The weeks immediately after Holy Week, a Christian tradition, are generally busy for Ssemakula. But not this year.

“We usually have about four paying in a week,” she says. “Now there are so few coming even to check on the gowns.”

Uganda has confirmed 55 cases of COVID-19 as of April 18.

Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda


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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Minjinsor Galbadrakh practices yoga at her home in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. To combat the spread of the coronavirus, Mongolia has restricted the operating hours of restaurants, bars and other public businesses, and fitness centers are closed.

Minjinsor practices yoga regularly at a local yoga center but is experimenting with online classes during quarantine.

Mongolia was one of the first countries to take preemptive measures to slow the progression of the coronavirus by closing its borders, schools and other public institutions in late January. The country has reported 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of April 18.

Myagmarsuren Battur, GPJ Mongolia

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