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Covid-19 Pandemic and Moral Panic

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an outbreak of the viral disease COVID-19 on March 11th 2020 that it had reached the level of a global pandemic. It has called for governments to take urgent and aggressive action to stop the spread of the virus. The Splash news on our daily publications and headlines during prime time news and social media sites have all been around reporting about Covid-19. As the spread of Covid-19 continued and each country announcing its first case we have seen the footage of empty shelves which used to be filled with abundant supplies of toiletries and foodstuffs proliferated on social media such is a case that occurred in Kenya on 13th March 2020 when the first case of Coronavirus was announced. So what caused such basic essentials to fly off the shelves? I may attribute it to News reports of an impending pandemic. Some people jump into action earlier than others do, purchasing a “deep pantry” designed to sustain themselves and their loved ones should they decide to self-isolate or in a case of a lockdown. Others downplay the significance of such reports, continuing to conduct business as usual until the first case is confirmed in their area and sometimes even after that.

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Although the coronavirus might be a novel disease, pandemic panic is not. You will have to realise that the word “pandemic” strikes fear into listeners, whether or not people actually know what it means or how it is defined. And as a public health crisis develops, words like “quarantine” and “isolation” further alarm community members, who then spring into action in order to stock up in preparation to hunker down. It is then that you get to see that media coverage of events usually sets the agenda for public debate. While looking at McCombs Agenda setting theory second assumption is that the more attention the media gives to an issue, the more likely the public will consider that issue to be important that means that mass media organizations aren’t telling us what to think or how we should feel about a story or issue, but are giving us certain stories or issues that people should think more about. Research has consistently shown that when issues receive extensive media coverage and are prominent in the news agenda, they also come to be seen as more important by members of the public

It seems that the aspect of fear brought about by the terms I have mentioned above has played a particularly vital role in coverage of the coronavirus outbreak bring up the concept of Moral Panic by Cohen (1972), the term refers to the way in which some social problems become ‘overconstructed’, generating exaggerated fear, anxiety or social reactions from the media, politicians, key agencies of social control and the general public, when the ‘threats’ or activities of individuals or a particular social group are thought to endanger the moral standards or values of society (Cohen, 1972; Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 1994; Critcher, 2003; Critcher, 2008).For example, Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsein Loong was widely quoted in cautioning against panic: Fear can make us panic, or do things which make matters worse, like circulating rumors online, hoarding face masks or food, or blaming particular groups for the outbreak.

Within the context of globalization full of mediated technological revolutions, emergence of Web 2.o and being that we are currently moving to web 3.o a more interactive media and world, the concept of moral panic has become a key feature in the analysis of different aspects of life in the global village. Globalization has been described as “the ways in which the world is being knitted together” (Cohen and Kennedy, 2000:10). Importantly, globalization has been argued to be a major force which provides key contributions to global progress and prosperity, flows as well as facilitating scientific discoveries which help people to live longer and healthier lives (DFID, 2000; World Bank, 2002a).

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Cohen gives examples from his study of the clashes between the Mods and Rockers, where the media consistently used plurals when only single instances had occurred. He also notes some distortion of the story by the use of emotive and inflammatory language, such as “riot, orgy of destruction, screaming mobs”, as well as misleading headlines, using the term “violence” where no violent act had occurred for example posts with images of hospital beds and patients being treated on the streets went viral on social media with the claim that hospitals in Italy had run out of space due to the spread of coronavirus but it is said the images being shared were genuine, they were not from Italy but were from Croatian earthquake survivors who were not Italian patients in such cases you get that the images were shared on social media sites; tweets and retweets circulating around the world in essence causing rise in fear and panic. The media are a particularly powerful set of actors in the creation of a moral panic.

He then refers to the theme of prediction. This is the ‘implicit assumption’ presented in every virtual report that what had happened was inevitably going to happen again” (Cohen, 1972:38), for example such a story with a headline “We need to be alert’: Scientists fear second coronavirus wave as China’s lockdowns ease” what is most traumatizing is that the media has replicated the virus’s strategy of transmission by passing around the world sensationalist reports, terrifying discussions, the media has presented daily updates on the number of cases as if they were the scores of a basketball game. ‘Kenya coronavirus cases increase to 142” this was a headline by the Standard Newspaper in Kenya on 5th April 2020 while internationally we had a headline reading ““Glimmer of light” but social distance to continue,” this was run by BBC news agency. In this sense, the media see a particular event, social problem or condition of panic as a trend rather than an isolated phenomenon. Finally, there is the process of symbolization, whereby “symbols and labels eventually acquire their own descriptive and explanatory potential” (Cohen, 1972: 40-41). I believe that the image of one wearing a mask or people just on mask has been reported to be one of the measures of prevention in contracting Corona virus but when this image were first portrayed in the media the case of many people on mask actually was attributed to the place being aired or pictured tend to have a higher case of Corona virus infection causing panic among readers and viewers this comes to connote the threat as a whole.

The constant coverage of coronavirus has pushed other reporting to the margins. For instance in Kenya, what could make up the everyday Headline in prime time news during the month of February was the Havoc that was being caused by Grasshoppers that tended to move county to county feeding on crops, and on 22nd April 2020 we had massive landslides which hit at least three wards in Kipkelion West constituency, Kericho County which was given let us say a shallow coverage. What the media is focused in doing is reporting on Corona virus infections while actual scientific reporting on what exactly the coronavirus is and how it functions has been relatively rare, media is not by nature educational these days, but rather aimed at sensationalism and marketing. Few true experts appear on television to explain the process an outbreak goes through or to provide meaningful comparisons between the number of deaths from COVID-19 and other deadly contagious diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis B, or pneumonia but what we are seeing are numbers that communicate the rate at which infections are increasing and death rates which in any situation does not reduce the moral or what is referred to as pandemic panic in this situation that is already in existence.

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The fifth and final set of actors, the public, is the most important player in the creation of a moral panic. Public agitation or concern over the folk devils is the central element of a moral panic. A moral panic only exists to the extent that there is an outcry from the public over the alleged threat posed by the folk devils (Cohen 1972). Depending on the information conveyed, media coverage of Covid-19 pandemic can either enlighten or frighten and so far what I can say most people are frightened. From a containment perspective, the goal is to have the community take precautionary measures without unnecessary anxiety and disruption to their lives. By referring to Professor Robert West (UCL Epidemiology & Health) in his discussion on BBC radio on 17th March 2020 there is the need of governmental communication strategies and messaging in the wake of an anticipated pandemic. It is noted, such communication will address public complacency, and enable the government to fulfill its duty to inform and protect the population. The challenge, they recognize, is to communicate the message to wash and take preventative measures before a local case is identified. At later stages within a pandemic, after cases have been confirmed, the need for the government to focus on communicating key messages geared to motivate the public to engage in stage-appropriate preventative action, without experiencing unnecessary panic.

It is important to conclude with the note as Cohen admitted that there are of course, some levels of real situations of concerns and social problems within the modern societies in the presentation of issues particularly the media which has indeed contributed to the heightened levels of panics. At global level, it has also implicated on economic and political actors in the area of key decision making and policy formulation on how to eliminate or at least minimize these social problems in the way that could promote the realization of the full potential of globalization.

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Covid-19 Pandemic and Moral Panic
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Artscolumbia
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an outbreak of the viral disease COVID-19 on March 11th 2020 that it had reached the level of a global pandemic. It has called for governments to take urgent and aggressive action to stop the spread of the virus. The Splash news on our daily publications and headlines during prime time news and social media sites have all been around reporting about Covid-19. As the spread of Covid-19 continued and each country announcing its first case we have seen t
2021-08-19 08:45:54
Covid-19 Pandemic and Moral Panic
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