Coronavirus briefs: Pandemic culture and politics

Social distancing signage. (Photo credit: GoToVan/Flicker Creative Commons)
Social distancing signage. (Photo credit: GoToVan/Flicker Creative Commons)

Public responses to the COVID-19 pandemic vary widely from place to place, influenced not just by geography and nationality, but also by deeply partisan politics.

Vive la différence

The ways that different nations are dealing with the pandemic are culturally specific.

What qualifies as “indispensable for the continuity of the life of the nation” in France includes cheese shops and boulangeries (bakeries), while in Berlin, nightlife continues, albeit via virtual club parties.

In India, Bollywood stars have been enlisted to deliver public-service messages to teach people basic hygiene such as hand washing.

In Britain, the “virtual pub quiz” is bringing people together, while in Australia, caravaners and cricket fans are making do with camping and engaging in sports in their own yards.

Source: BBC News

‘Virus vigilantes’

The lifesaving strategy of mass lockdowns to prevent coronavirus transmission has a complicated flip side — the social practice of narcing on your neighbors.

In New Zealand, where an emergency declaration will keep people indoors for two solid months, the government has set up a dedicated website for people to “dob in” — report — neighbors who are violating the lockdown.

The website is getting so much traffic, it takes a long time to load.

And the island nation’s stringent social controls — which include a total shutdown of its borders to all non-citizens — seem to be succeeding: transmission, infection and mortality are minuscule compared to the rest of the world.

Americans who have been active in informing on people whom they perceived as not taking proper COVID-19 precautions have been termed “virus vigilantes” by the Wall Street Journal.

In towns small enough that most people know who everyone is, people seen as not taking required or recommended measures are often reported to the local police, shamed on social media, and even shunned.

Sources: New Zealand Herald, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

U.S. politics: Partisan as usual

The Atlantic says there’s a “social-distancing culture war” brewing in the United States, as partisan politics influence how people respond to the call for social distancing.

The essay describes a country club in “suburban Atlanta” where “white-haired Republicans seem to delight in breaking the new rules,” by piling together into golf carts and shaking hands while a younger Democrat and his friends “slather on the hand sanitizer” and maintain a studious six feet of separation.

Elsewhere, a self-declared libertarian in Louisiana said the state-ordained closure of businesses seemed “militaristic” and reminiscent of Nazi Germany, while a conservative Texas store manager — who’s also an immune-compromised cancer survivor — performs the political calculus of balancing a personal need for social distancing against his sense of fear-mongering by Democrats.

Epidemiologists, on the other hand, feel that the politicization of public health necessities could be disastrous.

Source: The Atlantic

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