Unhealthy geopolitics? Bordering disease in the time of coronavirus

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COVID-19 is highlighting and exposing how public health and geopolitics intersect across spaces, scales, and settings. Existing literature focuses on the geopolitical determinants of health such as the allocation of foreign health-related assistance in post-colonial spaces, and the relationship between population health and the health impacts of exploiting resources for economic benefit. How populist nationalism shapes public reactions to disease has also been documented. There is a popular geopolitical dimension to how COVID-19 is portrayed—with expertise questioned, conspiracies circulated, lockdowns contested and mask-wearing ridiculed. Calls to keep ‘foreign’ pathogens and viruses out of national territory carry with it possibilities for exceptional measures, xenophobic politics, and heightened surveillance on the border and beyond. The place of the World Health Organization (WHO) within global health security remains complicated by the intersection of public health and geopolitical contexts. By using three themes, within and beyond the WHO, we explore how COVID-19 has been productive of three geopolitical narratives: public health as emblematic of great power rivalries, the bordering of the virus, and the (surgical) facemask as power projection. Our paper concludes with an assessment of how important it is to track and trace the relationship between health and geopolitics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-181
Number of pages13
JournalGeographical Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2020


  • politics
  • COVID-19
  • geopolitics
  • health
  • nationalism
  • populism

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