Moral Panic and Othering Practices during Nepal’s COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID19 pandemic which started in early 2020 has a major socio-economic impact through both the burden of the diseases as well as the consequences of lockdown and travel restrictions. The pandemic has also exposed serious inequities in access to health care facilities and delivery of services, especially for poorer and marginalised communities. The article outlines some of the key marginalised groups in Nepal, the history of the pandemic to date in relation to these groups. Next, we introduce the role of so-called fake news, in the form of misinformation and disinformation in the mass media and social media channels, and the fear, stigma and moral panic it seemed to create.
This resulted in our research aims, which are to: (a) explore the media’s role in creating public fear and stereotypes; (b) assess how migrants workers and Muslims perceive such rumours and responses, and their coping strategies and resilience; (c) explore the wider impact of such mis/disinformation and rumours and societal response; and (d) institutional responses.
Seven themes emerged from our interview data: a) rumours & mis/disinformation; b) fear & moral panic; c) health & social impact; d) othering practices-stigma, discrimination, abuse, humiliation, blame, social exclusion; e) resistance & resilience; f) institutional response; and g) preventive measures against rumour & mis/disinformation. And from our media analysis we distilled in six key themes: a) negative media tone; b) stigma, fear & panic responses in the community; c) inappropriate actions from officials & local representatives; d) demoralising, disrespect & criminal behaviour against returnee migrants & their families; e) impact on health care access & treatment of returnee migrants, and f) response & resilience.
Some of these findings are addressed in more detail in this paper which closes with some final considerations that include COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.