I am reading an article, The state in the time of covid-19, in The Economist. I don't completely understand a particular phrase and want to know if I have the right idea.

Last two paragraphs from the article for context:

The most worrying is the dissemination of intrusive surveillance. Invasive data collection and processing will spread because it offers a real edge in managing the disease. But they also require the state to have routine access to citizens’ medical and electronic records. The temptation will be to use surveillance after the pandemic, much as anti-terror legislation was extended after 9/11. This might start with tracing tb cases or drug dealers. Nobody knows where it would end, especially if, having dealt with covid-19, surveillance-mad China is seen as a model.

Surveillance may well be needed to cope with covid-19. Rules with sunset clauses and scrutiny built in can help stop it at that. But the main defence against the overmighty state, in tech and the economy, will be citizens themselves. They must remember that a pandemic government is not fit for everyday life.

What does "pandemic government" mean?

The definition of "pandemic" in most authoritative sources include the word "disease". After reading the article, the only reasonable meaning of "pandemic government" that I can think of is that "the government is going to be everywhere." The author is essentially saying that the government will be a disease (and nobody wants a disease?). Is this interpretation correct? Is the author indirectly saying that a certain country's government is a disease? This seems a bit extreme, and I doubt the author wants to say this.

Definitions from dictionaries (of the adjective form):

Cambridge: (of a disease) existing in almost all of an area or in almost all of a group of people, animals, or plants

Collins: (of a disease) affecting persons over a wide geographical area; extensively epidemic

Merriam-Webster: occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population

Macmillan (derived word): an occurrence of a disease that affects many people across a whole country or the whole world


They are referring to the heavy-handed tactics that governments are being forced to use to prevent the spread of the pandemic. An alternative wording would be "They must remember that the style of government during a pandemic is not fit for everyday life."

Something like that.

  • 2
    I would add that it's similar to the phrase "wartime government" = the type of government that operates in a time of war. – SarahT Apr 18 '20 at 0:25
  • @SarahT I am having a hard time relating them. When we say "a wartime government", we don't just mean a government that is in power during a war - it means much more than that. It reflects the operations/actions of a government that is participating in that war. A "pandemic" is not specific to a few countries. In this case, it applies to the whole world. Obviously, the government in Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, etc., are not anywhere near as power hungry (or "surveillance-mad") as say the government in China and US. Some governments are more intrusive than others during a pandemic. – AIQ Apr 20 '20 at 0:56
  • @SarahT And so the adjective "pandemic" in "pandemic government" cannot just be referring to any government during the pandemic. Not all governments resorted to "heavy-handed tactics" during the Covid19 pandemic. And so I don't think that phrase can be used in such a general way. It has to mean something specific, and I don't know what. – AIQ Apr 20 '20 at 0:57
  • @AIQ I think some journalists have started using the phrase "pandemic government" to suggest that a pandemic government will be heavy-handed like a wartime government. But we haven't experienced a pandemic government in North America since 1918. So this is a new thing and we don't know what it will be like. The article you quoted is warning citizens to be vigilant to prevent a "pandemic government" from becoming authoritarian. – SarahT Apr 20 '20 at 4:59

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