With quarantines being imposed in many countries across the world, I've been wondering what our planet must look like right now. Empty streets, empty squares, empty towns, everything just... empty. If you surveyed from above, would it seem like humans have deserted Earth or are there still signs of our lives, if you looked closely? Then it occurred to me that I can easily snoop in on the world from the safety of my couch and discover its new, unprecedented facet with all the signs of civilization but no people. I started looking at live public CCTV camera apps and feeds and, after spending hours lost in the desolate streets, I ended up liking three apps, each for a different reason. If you're intrigued by this dystopian, macabre future present, start playing some eerie music and follow me on my grim journey.

The biggest collection of live public cameras

If I was only going to use one app to livestream public CCTV cams, I'd pick Live Camera. It has over 7000 feeds from all over the world, organized by country and category. I can also use the map to pan around and see where each of these cams is located.

Left: Live Camera side menu. Middle: Explore by category. Right: Map.

Most of the app (main view, search, bookmarks, categories, random) is built around the same interface: eight cam snapshots on each page, with swiping up/down or left/right letting you move to a new page. Select a feed and you can see it live, add it to your favorites, and see a history of static snaps from the last 24 hours.

 

Left: 8 feeds per page. Middle: Viewing one feed. Right: 24-hour history with static snaps.

My favorite part about the app was whittling down the feeds by subject. Grounded airplanes in airports, empty offices and restaurants, normally busy squares and streets now with only the odd human or car, highways without any traffic, deserted malls and gyms and laundromats and churches, it has it all. Prepare to have your heart a little broken at all those sights, then go through the screenshots I took.

Live public feeds in excellent quality

YouTube
YouTube
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free

Most of the feeds available in the first app are rather low quality. I was trying to find better streams and ended up trying dozens of apps with invasive permission requests and fullscreen ads, until I found one that aggregated YouTube Live links. After facepalming myself for a good five minutes, I opened the official YouTube app and searched for the very simple "Live webcam" term. That yielded lots of results that I could filter down by tapping the settings button on the top right, and then choosing Live. I could also add the name of a city or country and odds are, I'd find a livestream from there. I also found this awesome playlist of live cams from all over the world.

Left: Search for "live webcam". Middle: Filter by "Live." Right: That awesome livestream playlist.

The results here are more limited compared to the first app above, there's no map or category or geolocation, so you'll miss out on a lot of interesting content. However, the best aspects of using YouTube, beside the fact that you're not trusting some shady app, is that you can Chromecast or stream the videos on many screens around your home, choose the feed's quality (720p, 1080p, or even 4K) and scrub to go back an hour or two, or possibly more, on many livestreams. Once you find a few feeds, you can add them to a playlist or easily share them with others.

The feeds that hit me the hardest were the ones from Italy (Venice and Assisi were really empty) and those from New York. I had to triple check the local time at one point, because I only saw 3 or 4 people walking around a normally busy street in New York... turns out it was half past noon. At the same time, I checked out a beachfront in Florida, which was thankfully empty. I'm hoping that's a sign that silly Spring Breakers have stopped filling the beaches there.

Limited feeds with extensive history

As I delved deeper and deeper in the vacant streets of our world, I started wondering what those places looked like a week earlier, two, three,... When did the quarantine go into effect in each area? Were people social distancing and staying home even before the announcement was made official in their countries? So I went looking for apps that'd allow me to view a CCTV cam's older history. I found Worldscope, which seemed awesome, until I discovered that it got all its snaps from Windy.com, and that lead me to Windy's own app.

The app doesn't seem to be available worldwide, but I grabbed it from our sister site, APK Mirror. It took me a while to figure out how to enable the webcams, so I'll spare you the torture. Look at the bottom right and notice those different white icons (I know, weird place). The one with the three horizontal lines is the menu. Open it, then scroll down and choose Webcams in the Display on map section. Bam.

Left: Find the menu button (lower right). Middle: Enable "Webcams." Right: Spot the tiny webcam icons.

Now you can pan and zoom through the whole world looking for these small white camera icons. Click on one to view the most recent snapshot taken there. Most, if not all, feeds aren't livestreaming; they just take an image every few hours. But that's enough for the app's original purpose — weather monitoring — as well as for my time machine goal.

Swiping through the timeline, I could clearly see how different countries reacted and when the gravity of the situation seemed to hit people more clearly. In the screenshots I took below, you'll see three successive snaps from the same location: one when things were still normal, one when people became more aware of the risk of crowds, and finally the most recent one with the place fully deserted.

I think the one that got to me most was Saint Peter's Square in the Vatican. The difference between the crowds around Christmas and the abandoned square today is sinister. There's also a view of Westminster Bridge in London, a ski resort in Lebanon, Centre Pompidou in Paris, a bar in Barcelona, and more. Everything looked desolate, as if I was watching them on a Sunday at 5am. It was midday Thursday.

I know how spine-chilling these images are. Our world looks desolate, void of life and joy, as if we'd all fallen into a terrible apocalyptical Sci-Fi movie that we can't get out of. Still, the longer I looked at the vacant streets and malls and parks, the more I realized something else: Yes, they're a symptom of the problem, but they're a sign of the solution too. Quarantining, social distancing, staying home, whatever you want to call it, it's how we avoid a much bigger impact on our global society and how we make things a little bit easier on our healthcare system. Honestly, I'd be a lot more heartbroken if I'd seen life continuing normally and if I'd found packed restaurants, crowded malls, and traffic jams. I decided that it's OK to mourn our past hectic streets and lives, but we should all gain a new appreciation for our spookily empty ones.