How do you get citizens to take personal hygiene seriously amid the novel coronavirus epidemic? Catchy tunes.
While community interventions like canceling mass gatherings are important in trying to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, health experts say that individual behavioral changes are just as crucial. And to get the message across to the public, governments have turned to goofy songs to promote practices like proper hand-washing.
Using music to communicate public health messages to the masses is not new, of course. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a page listing songs with workplace safety and health themes. A dance track with lyrics on how to prevent virus spreading was all the rage in clubs throughout Liberia in 2014, alongside other songs that sought to raise awareness of Ebola. Malaysian health authorities have used traditional folk songs to deliver health information about HIV and dengue fever.
Now, as cases of Covid-19 continue to grow outside China, different countries are pushing out songs urging people to take precautions.
Last week, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing released a video of her performing a hand washing dance. Fan, who has starred in the Iron Man and X-Men franchises, went missing from public view for several months in 2018, only to re-emerge apologizing for dodging taxes.
Vietnam’s “Ghen Co Vy,” based on the melody of a V-pop hit, was written by Vietnamese record producer Khac Hung in collaboration with the country’s National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health. The song has since become a global hit, with late night television show host John Oliver dancing along to it in a recent episode of his HBO show. The lyrics are simple and to the point, urging people to “rub, rub, rub” their hands, avoid touching their faces, and stay away from crowded places.
Thailand has a song too, a track named “COVID-19: Dance Against The Virus.” Released by Bangkok’s overground train service, the music video features uniformed workers implementing various measures like disinfecting railings and washing their hands.
Singapore, meanwhile—a country with a propensity for cheesy government campaign songs—has a music video titled “Wash Yo Hands” by comedian Gurmit Singh, who famously released “The Sar-vivor Rap” during the 2003 SARS epidemic. Alternating between a plaid shirt and a striped polo, Singh implores people to “Wash your hands, got to fight the virus all day all night / Wash your hands, do it with soap and then you’ll be alright.” He also adds, “Personal hygiene is not a chore / If we do our our part, then we win liao lor,” using a Singaporean expression to mean “we’ve already won.”
In Ecuador, which has reported 15 confirmed cases, a street performer strummed his guitar and serenaded people who were queuing up to buy face masks and disinfectant. “It’s arrived to Ecuador,” he sang. “People here are scared, buying face masks and disinfectant.”
Mexico was well ahead of the game, with singer Mister Cumbia releasing “La Cumbia Del Coronavirus” in late January—less than a week after the Chinese city of Wuhan placed its 11 million residents under lockdown. Unsurprisingly, his song has since spawned numerous other viral renditions, including one featuring dozens of health workers dressed in their white uniforms dancing in front of a hospital.