COVID-19: A biopolitical odyssey

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This paper examines how and why a zoonotic, ‘novel’ coronavirus disease,
Covid-19, became a pandemic of such magnitude as to bring the world to a
standstill for several months. Though the WHO inaccurately projected
Covid-19 as the first pandemic by a coronavirus, it had been preceded by two
others also caused by a similar coronavirus: SARS (severe acute respiratory
syndrome) in 2002-03 and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) in 2014.
In fact, following the SARS pandemic, the possibility of the emergence of
pathogenic, virulent, ‘novel’ strains had been predicted. Therefore, the
emergence of Covid-19 coronavirus should have come as no surprise, yet
‘preparedness’ to deal with the emergency was seriously lacking.

A major reason for the worldwide escalation was due to the inordinate
delay in Covid-19 pandemic declaration by the WHO till geographical spread
and severity had heightened considerably. This enabled the justification of
draconian ‘suppression’ measures based on questionable science. This paper
argues that the ‘lockdown’ strategy coming after the virus had seeded across
countries initiating local transmission, was a political decision wrapped up in
epidemiological parlance to give it a scientific veneer. Using the Foucauldian
interpretation of the public health responses to three diseases – leprosy, plague
and smallpox –as models for three distinct forms of power techniques, this
paper explores the biopolitical reasons for the adoption of the ‘plague’ model
of governance which exercised ‘in full’, a transparent, unobstructed power as
the almost universal blueprint across the world to contain Covid-19.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDen Haag
PublisherInternational Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
Number of pages40
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Publication series

SeriesISS working papers. General series


  • ISS Working Paper-General Series


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