During the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions for visitors and caregivers in healthcare settings and long-term care (LTC) facilities were enacted in the larger context of public health policies that included physical distancing and shelter-in-place orders. Older persons residing in LTC facilities constituted over half of the mortality statistics across Canada during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the poststructuralist work of Agamben, Foucault and Mbembe we conducted a thematic analysis on news reports. The extracts of media stories presented in our paper suggest that the scholarship on (bio)power and necropolitics is central for understanding the ways the COVID-19 crisis reveals the pragmatic priorities—and the ‘health’ and political values—that undergird the moral imagination of the public, including the educated classes of advanced Western democracies. Our critical analysis shows that by isolating individuals who were sick, fragile, and biologically and socially vulnerable, undifferentiated population management policies like social distancing, when piled on the structural weakness of health systems, reproduced inequities and risk for those in need of medical care, advocacy, and social companionship in acute moments of illness, death and grief. Considering the unprecedented deployment of governmental power via public health interventions based on social regulation to protect the population during the crisis—how can we understand so much death and suffering among the most vulnerable?
- philosophy of medicine/health care
- public health
Data availability statement
Data sharing is not applicable as no data sets were generated and/or analysed for this study. The empirical data were news media articles obtained via FACTIVA (University of Ottawa License).
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Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.