COVID-19: Singapore public awareness campaign scores own goal with Liverpool fans

The Virus Vanguard characters, including MAWA Man (front). (PHOTO: Screenshot/Gov.sg)

SINGAPORE — A public awareness campaign by the Singapore government meant to galvanise the nation in its battle against COVID-19 has scored an own goal with the country’s huge Liverpool Football Club fan base.

The campaign had featured a band of comic-book “superheroes” dubbed the “Virus Vanguard”, a collaboration between the Singapore government portal Gov.sg and local art collective Band of Doodlers.

However, within a day of the campaign’s launch on Monday (20 April), the portal was forced to take down the main campaign webpage after Liverpool fans in Singapore launched a petition on Change.org calling for the removal of one of the five comic-book characters.

Character despises everything Liverpool

Along with the Circuit Breaker, Fake News Buster, Dr Disinfector and Care-leh Dee characters, the MAWA (Must Always Walk Alone) Man is supposedly an ambassador created to reinforce the safe-distancing measures which the government has implemented during the current circuit breaker period.

In the paragraph describing the MAWA Man that was originally on the main campaign webpage, he grew up in the 1980s supporting Manchester United. Taunts by his two Liverpool-supporting brothers made him "despise everything Liverpool, including their motto You'll Never Walk Alone”. The description continued, “His hatred for Liverpool so far exceeds his love for Man United that it manifested as a telekinesis power.”

According to the campaign, this power means he can force people and objects away from one another, helped by a digital distance meter in his eyes.

Petition, complaints on social media

Dissent came when a Liverpool fan (DRNLFC) posted a petition on Change.org on Monday calling for the removal of the character. As of Tuesday morning, the petition has received 588 online signatures.

The Change.org petition to remove MAWA Man from the Virus Vanguard campaign. (PHOTO: Screenshot/Change.org)

“‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is a song that was collectively used by most European radio stations as a show of solidarity amidst the COVID-19 lockdowns,” the petition wrote.

“Yet this campaign appears to be an attempt to make a mockery of the song. This is distasteful and extremely disrespectful.

“In a period when the global community should be showing care and concern for each other, it is baffling that one of the characters in this campaign named MAWA Man ‘happens to hate Liverpool, and his hate for the club is so intense that it manifested as a special telekinetic power to push objects and people through his eyes’.”

There were also numerous complaints about the MAWA Man character on social media. Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin – a Liverpool fan himself – eventually put up a post on his Facebook post urging fans to be “steady” and adding that “we all know”.

Characters undergoing review

On Monday night, the main campaign webpage was taken down, and Gov.sg released a Facebook post saying that the Virus Vanguard is “undergoing a review”.

“We have received quite a lot of feedback on the characters and we will be reviewing them. We are sorry if we offended anyone,” the post said.

“As this is the first time we are exploring this content format, we appreciate your patience.

“The Virus Vanguard is a collaboration with the Band of Doodlers to create a comic series to convey different aspects of the Circuit Breaker measures. If you have an idea or suggestion on Virus Vanguard, do share with us.”

In the Gov.sg Facebook post, Band of Doodlers founder Mas Shafreen also posted a message identifying himself as the creator of the superhero team, and apologising that the characters “came across insensitive”.

“A group of us, including myself, wanted to create superhero characters to show appreciation for our frontliners, including healthcare workers, and how we can battle this together,” he said.

"The current situation has affected us all and I know as an artist myself, I am very appreciative of such opportunities given that jobs are hard to come by. I am sorry for the trouble caused and I hope local artists can still be supported with creative projects.”

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