OK chaps, let’s drop the war analogies when talking about coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 07:34 09 April 2020 | UPDATED: 07:34 09 April 2020

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there is a long way for the UK to go before the restrictions can be lifted. Picture: Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there is a long way for the UK to go before the restrictions can be lifted. Picture: Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street

We’re not at ‘war’, there is no ‘front line’ and they’re not ‘field hospitals’. Rachel Moore says the coronavirus lingo being pumped out by politicians is all wrong

No one is stupid enough to believe that a strong will, fighting spirit and big character is the key to overcoming a deadly disease.

So why has the language around coronavirus become that of the battlefield, and survival down to who is strong and a fighter?

The language of war is coming from the top – the all-male top – which is even more unhelpful.

At the Downing Street podium on Tuesday after the prime minister’s second night in hospital, one in intensive care, Dominic Raab, said: “If there is one thing that I know about this prime minister is he is a fighter and he will be back leading us through this crisis.”

As if Boris Johnson’s front-it-out character has some sway over the progression of the virus, like he was a knight astride his horse, protected by a special armour of “character” that would protect him from the deadly spear of the disease because he was a “fighter.”

Language like this helps no one through this crisis and is far from the well-meaning rallying cry its adopters believe it is.

Please leave out the battlefield metaphors of heroes battling a villainous disease.

The same language is used for cancer patients – who hate it, by the way, finding it tough enough coping with a tumour growing inside them without being told they could win/lose their battle by “staying strong”, “thinking positive” and “fighting it.”

No one lies down and tells an illness it can ride roughshod over them and submits. Illness, treatment and its progression are a process that either work or doesn’t. You have to go with it. Strength, weakness, fighting or submission have no part to play.

Covid-19 families have enough to cope with, separated from their loved ones to die alone, sometimes with a stranger holding their hand in a latex glove, to feel their loved one has failed by being weak. It’s offensive.

Human beings by our very nature have a frailty and vulnerability when it comes to a virulent virus, cancer or injury. We have no say whatsoever in its outcome, however hard we try.

Survival is down to luck, medicine, nature or physical make-up, or a mix of all, nothing to do with an iron state of mind or being a “fighter.”

The war terminology dominating the language around coronavirus is insulting to the memory and families of the more than 7,000 people who have already been killed by the disease.

It is disturbing, distorting and misleading. People have enough to cope with trying to understand the virus and how loved ones are dying, alone, apart from sometimes a stranger holding their hand covered by a latex glove.

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Implying people have lost a battle that was theirs to fight is not remotely helpful while this indiscriminate killer has yet to reach its peak and hundreds of people are being diagnosed every day.

All this does is pass responsibility on to the sufferer to cast their own die about the situation implying that feeble fibre will lead to death and standing your ground has some sort of clinical advantage. See how ridiculously stupid it sounds.

But war terminology everywhere in this lock down. We have a “field hospitals” at the Excel – a temporary hospital would do – and medics are on the “front line” like troops.

We are all urged to “do our bit” for the fight against coronavirus, which really means staying indoors and not stockpiling loo roll.

Interestingly, there’s no such fighting talk from the magnificent deputy chief health officer for England Dr Jenny Harris, only measured accuracy.

US president Donald Trump has spoken about “our war against the Chinese virus”, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke of the “war against an invisible enemy”; meanwhile, French president Emmanuel Macron said: “Nous somme en guerre. [We are at war.]”

It might not be the intention, but this language only serves to unnerve and scare people even more, making people more suspicious, condemning and snooping on each other, using hysterical language akin to a correspondent’s to me in an email last week, describing people parking outside her beauty spot home as engaging in “criminal activity” meaning her family couldn’t leave the house. Gangs weren’t running county lines drug operations – they were acting against government guidance – now instructions.

We need to be measured, calm and sensible, taking the lead from the health professionals, be moderate, kind and gentle in our language taking more about unity and solidarity.

Wars do change the world – and so will coronavirus – but there’s no battle, war strategy or fighting. It’s about science and sense working together.

Watching my frazzled younger friends despair, being spared the challenge of home-schooling by several years is something I will be forever grateful for.

Teachers are born. Being a parent does not a teacher make.

All I hope now is for these wonderful individuals that shape our children in return for stick, jokes about 9am-3pm hours and long holidays and unrealistic expectations return to their respected place in society they deserve.

Being put in someone’s shoes 
is the only way to really understand what they do. There are thousands of parents now wondering how they heck they do day in day out with 29 more children every day.


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