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.

, , , , , ,
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)
ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Sathyamala, C. (2020). COVID-19: a biopolitical odyssey. ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 667). Retrieved from