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Covid-19: Comic superheroes campaign fails to take flight, Govt says sorry ‘if we offended anyone’

SINGAPORE — Dubbed the “Virus Vanguard”, they were a group of five “superheroes” who were supposed to galvanise the country in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. But the campaign was launched on Monday (April 20) to mixed reactions, going viral but not necessarily in a positive way.

Covid-19: Comic superheroes campaign fails to take flight, Govt says sorry ‘if we offended anyone’

A screenshot of the gov.sg page where it introduced the Virus Vanguard, before it was taken down.

SINGAPORE — Dubbed the “Virus Vanguard”, they were a group of five “superheroes” who were supposed to galvanise the country in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. But the campaign was launched on Monday (April 20) to mixed reactions, going viral but not necessarily in a positive way.

By 11pm, the article introducing the superheroes on the Government website gov.sg had gone offline. In a Facebook post at around 11.30pm, the government communications portal stated 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 stated. “As this is the first time we are exploring this content format, we appreciate your patience.”

It went on to say that the Virus Vanguard is a collaboration with the Band of Doodlers — an art collective — to create a “comic series to convey different aspects” of the circuit breaker measures.

The superhero quintet — Dr Disinfector, Fake News Buster, MAWA Man, Circuit Breaker and Care-leh Dee — each have “superpowers” in the fight against Covid-19.

Care-leh Dee, for instance, is described as “a female trillionaire philanthropist” who uses empathy to “absorb all negativity”.

MAWA (Must Always Walk Alone) Man, as one would have guessed, is the safe distancing enforcer. The Gov.sg article describes him as a Manchester United fan who “despises everything Liverpool including their motto You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It was little wonder the campaign earned a mention on sports website ESPN.

But some among the public were less than amused, with comments saying that the money spent could have been channelled to better use.

The team was first introduced to the public via a Facebook post on Sunday, before it was launched on Monday — the same day that a record 1,426 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Singapore.

Facebook user Josie Kay, posting on the Gov.sg post, said that there were “better ways to spend taxpayers’ money”.

Another user, Yeong Cheng Ng, said that the campaign is “just a comic joke”.

“No wonder people don’t take your advice seriously,” the Facebook comment read.

Others have had to explain about the campaign to friends from overseas who have heard about it.

Facebook user Hon Liang said that it was “embarrassing” when international medical colleagues sent him messages to ask about the “Virus Vanguard”.

Others, however, took a lighter approach and said that one of the characters reminded them of VR Man — an English television drama about a Singaporean superhero starring James Lye that aired in 1998.

“James Lye is the VR Man! He is the one. Do not replace,” wrote Facebook user Benn Tham.

A Facebook user identifying himself as the artist who created the Virus Vanguard also commented on the Gov.sg post, apologising "that the characters came across insensitive".

The artist, who goes by the name Mas Shafreen on Facebook, said the original intention of the Band of Doodlers art group was to "create superhero characters to show appreciation for our frontliners, including healthcare workers, and how we can battle this together." Shafreen said he was then approached to develop a comic series to raise awareness of the circuit breaker measures.

As for the controversial MAWA Man, Shafreen — who is a Manchester United fan — said the concept behind the character was that "he will realise that it takes all of us, regardless of which team we support, to pull through this together. And we cannot just do this alone."

"I am sorry for the trouble caused and I hope local artists can still be supported with creative projects," Shafreen added.

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