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The site for Huoshensan Hospital in Wuhan China in 2017 (left). The hospital built in 2020 (right). Photos: ©2020 Maxar Technologies

Miles above Earth, the global effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic can be seen unfolding at a rapid and dramatic scale.

Why it matters: Tracking the effects of the virus from space can help organizations understand the pandemic without sending people into harm's way, and it can promote transparency and accountability around efforts to combat the virus.

What's happening: Planet — a company that operates more than 100 Earth-imaging satellites — has been snapping before and after photos of airports, bridges and other locations to show how social distancing efforts have cleared roads and tourist destinations around the world.

  • Another satellite operator, Maxar, has been tracking the construction of new hospitals and medical facilities as cities try to treat an influx of patients.
  • Companies are also reporting an uptick in demand for satellite imagery showing manufacturing and infrastructure in particularly hard-hit parts of the world like China, according to a report from Space News.
Miami Beach in 2019 (left). An empty Miami Beach in 2020. Photos: Planet Labs Inc.

The big picture: Satellite images also provide a sense of scope that can't be seen from the ground.

  • A striking timelapse shows pollution clearing over China as the country enacted strict measures to slow the progression of the coronavirus crisis. (Similar photos also show pollution clearing above Italy.)
  • Satellite images also show large pits being dug in Iran to bury the victims of the coronavirus outbreak in that country.

Background: Satellite data has long been used to aid in disaster relief.

  • Images taken from space can also be used to track deforestation and wildfires.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Between the lines: Satellite images not only show the scope of the coronavirus crisis, but also help to hold nations and companies accountable for their actions as people on the ground work to combat the pandemic.

  • "Space enables a higher degree of transparency," Dylan Taylor, the CEO of Voyager Space Holdings told Axios. "It's hard to hide from space-based assets."

What's next: It's possible remote sensing data will also be used to aid in economic recovery.

  • The bird's eye view a satellite provides could help companies track the effects of the outbreak without putting employees at risk on the ground.
  • Satellite data might also be able to help warn about future epidemics by keeping an eye on areas that have the potential for outbreaks to know when the risk is high for certain diseases to start spreading.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Science

COVID time warp

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic seems like a lifetime ago to some, and just yesterday to others. Scientists are beginning to unpack the way people processed the passage of time amidst the stress, uncertainty and isolation of the 1 year, 8 months and 21 days since WHO declared a pandemic.

Why it matters: The pandemic's global effects on how people experience time could provide new insights into the brain's ability to perceive and predict time — a fundamental feature of life.

Mitt Romney calls Ray Dalio's China investments a "sad moral lapse"

Sen. Mitt Romney walks to a Senate Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol on Oct. 7. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Thursday criticized billionaire Ray Dalio's investments in China, writing in a tweet that "his feigned ignorance of China's horrific abuses and rationalization of complicit investments there is a sad moral lapse."

Driving the news: Romney's comments come after Dalio's firm, Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world, raised $1.3 billion in November for a new private fund in China, Bloomberg reports.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: First known U.S. case of Omicron variant identified in California — America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron — CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers.
  2. Politics: Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come — Meta removes accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China.
  3. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine.
  4. World: Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people — Omicron variant detected in more countriesWHO advises people 60 or older to postpone travel due to Omicron
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.