Question
Asked 1st Apr, 2020

What metaphors are explaining the COVID-19 pandemic and how do they impact on the approach that is being considered from public health?

Media discourses around the coronavirus pandemic tend towards metaphorical expressions such as the war against an invisible enemy, of the ecosystem balance so that the Earth returns to its original status. For this reason, expressions of legitimization of police and military violence have been seen to achieve social isolation. There are dangers in these metaphors since they do not focus on health education, but exacerbate autocracy and state violence.

Most recent answer

3rd Jun, 2020
Nazaruddin Sinaga
Universitas Diponegoro
Very interesting discussion...👍.
7 Recommendations

Popular Answers (1)

3rd Jun, 2020
Nazaruddin Sinaga
Universitas Diponegoro
Very interesting discussion...👍.
7 Recommendations

All Answers (15)

5th Apr, 2020
Zouheir Maalej
The WHO framed Europe as “the greatest epicenter of the spread of coronavirus world-wide.” The CEO of WHO framed coronavirus as “the enemy of humanity,” and in Geneva on March 23, 2020, he declared about coronavirus: “To win a football match, it is not enough to defend; you also have to attack.” President Trump framed the way Americans are facing coronavirus as a “medical war;” at another occasion, he declared: “We are working together at full blast to contain this invisible enemy.” Angela Merkel framed coronavirus as “the greatest challenge since WW2.” These different categories to frame the coronavirus (challenge, enemy, medical war, invisible enemy, football match, defend, attack) evoke different frames or worldviews for viewers/readers of an otherwise health hazard. For instance, the frame for “enemy” includes mistrust, preparing to face up to it while “war” sets side by side two belligerents namely, a destructive microscopic one-entity enemy vs. humanity’s medical know-how, with no casualties on the side of coronavirus and a lot of human casualties or victims.
I agree that different metaphors require different social actions and medical treatments as per the entailments of every single one. But I do not see that these diverse metaphors are a direct legitimization of police interference. It is true that because of the high risk of contagion and lack of understanding and right assessment of the amplitude of the pandemic on the part of some citizens in the world, various authorities in various societies are actually enforcing what comes with states of emergency for the sake of common benefit and human life safeguard.
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6th Apr, 2020
Lucia Morra
Università degli Studi di Torino
I think you are right.
While war metaphors used to describe the pandemic serve by now the useful end of making (many) people perceive the necessity of changing behaviors to spare their lives (and the various national health services), at the same time they the tend to legitimize of police or military interference in private lives, as several countries show.
However, humanity seems in real danger by now, so these metaphors are effective, and in my opinion difficult to be replaced at least in the short run. To minimally counterbalance their negative effects (fear that makes people aggressive and insane), all aspects that enlighten the possibility given by the pandemic of a different collaboration between people and countries could/should be emphasized ...
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7th Apr, 2020
Alfredo López-Badilla
University of Costa Rica
I am aware of some of these metaphorical expressions. Currently, the predominant and most widespread form is the war metaphor. The example of Trump, who named the virus as "the Chinese virus", suggests that there may be an intention to create conditions of rejection and hatred towards specific enemies, China in that case. In contexts of insecurity and fear, this can lead to concrete forms of violence, xenophobia, and racism. This discourse has been widely used in other contexts of war through cinema.
A major concern that emerges with the implementation of different measures of social isolation is that violence against those who breach them is justified, making them public enemies. Examples have been seen in Ecuador, where people have been beaten to punish them going out on the street.
2 Recommendations
7th Apr, 2020
Eugen Schochenmaier
International Council Of Onomastic Sciences
I found the following examples:
- Fighting COVID-19 Is Like 'Whack-A-Mole,' Says Writer Who Warned Of A Pandemic.
- How COVID-19 Is like Climate Change. Both are existential challenges
- As COVID-19 Crashes the Economy, Workers and Business Owners Wonder If Anything Can Save Them From Financial Ruin.
- Brooklyn hospital treating coronavirus patients is "like something out of the Twilight
- Coronavirus is like a blackout that has caught half the world off guard in ...
2 Recommendations
9th Apr, 2020
Miroslav Gajic
University of Duisburg-Essen
In almost all of the countries around Balkan, politicians and medical sorkers who are a members of Crisis team are using following word: war against invisible enemy, stay home, economy crisis, irresponsible citizens
10th Apr, 2020
Alfredo López-Badilla
University of Costa Rica
Miroslav Gajic if we look carefully this behaviour is widespread, including healthcare staff and politicians. What do you think about it? Especially of the saying of the "citizen responsibility"
12th Apr, 2020
Lucia Morra
Università degli Studi di Torino
Here there is a beautiful paper (in Italian, though!) concerning precisely the necessity/opportunity to substitute the war metaphors with metaphors concerning the idea that we have to take care of ourselves...hope it gives hints!
Happy easter to everyone!
2 Recommendations
13th Apr, 2020
Alfredo López-Badilla
University of Costa Rica
Thanks a lot, gotta read it.
14th Apr, 2020
Aldo Amirante
Università degli Studi della Campania "Luigi Vanvitelli
The war metaphor identifies an enemy, the virus, and places a number of responsibilities on it, and not on internal human errors. But at the same time it authorizes the use of extraordinary powers, necessary, in part, to have quick responses. However, I believe that the correct metaphor is the health defeat, for the inadequacy of the health structures in almost all countries, and for the errors (or weakness) of the WHO. The defeat would make it possible to incite the need to react.
But we always turn around war concepts, because they represent the "extraordinary condition" of the countries. One of the mistakes that accompanies the war metaphor is that it takes part of the "alliances" into account, but without seeing the problem in a global way.
Not to mention the war against the social crisis that is coming.
14th Apr, 2020
Alfredo López-Badilla
University of Costa Rica
Aldo Amirante Thank you very much for your reply. I think you suggest two ideas. On the one hand, that the enemy is not the virus; I think your point is provocative because it escapes from the war metaphor emphasizing the ability of Health Systems to prevent and respond to natural and social phenomena, in this case the coronavirus, we already know that countries are organized in a way different and that strategy is what has allowed different effects of the crisis. On the other hand, it is true that the current situation is unusual and requires prompt and agile solutions; advantages have been noted in the war metaphor, I do not fully understand his expression that alliances are not approached "in a global way".
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14th Apr, 2020
Aldo Amirante
Università degli Studi della Campania "Luigi Vanvitelli
Virus is the problem, not the enemy. The War metaphors distracts people from the inadequacy of State Health Systems, and international cooperation in Health, in a globalized world.
There's a light cooperation between states, but each country prefers to follow its own way. I do not see a global strategy, while the virus does not respect the frontiers.
15th Apr, 2020
Alfredo López-Badilla
University of Costa Rica
Aldo Amirante That is a good example. Among the characteristics that have caught my attention is the individuality of the responses of the countries to the current emergency. Recently Vladimir Putin argued that the "save yourself who can" attitude of European countries exemplified what for him is the fallacy of the European Union. For the closest case, in Central America it has been impossible due to many factors to articulate an integrated response at the regional level, attempts were made but the presidents of several countries (El Salvador and Nicaragua) did not participate in the plan to unify regional actions. Returning to the point of the war metaphor, it is evident that no true "alliances" have been formed and that the collaboration of some countries (the case of Russia with Italy) showed a political nuance. I recently saw in a newscast that Romania has had trouble buying lung ventilators because it has few resources in the competition, while countries like Germany can, and do, pay three times the normal price. However, you also have to think about the group of scientists. On the one hand, there is literally a "war" against the clock to produce the vaccine, is this for economic purposes? On the other hand, the collaboration between doctors, microbiologists, virologists, geneticists ... has allowed us to transcend national borders to understand on a global scale the characteristics of COVID-19. Could we bring the metaphor of war to science?
16th Apr, 2020
Petros Khalesirad
Central Queensland University
One reputable media outlet in Australia (I know that sounds like an oxymoron) explained it as "the virus doesn't spread, people spread the virus". I thought that was a good educational point of view that equally made the point if not better than referring to it as any of the above fear centric examples.

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