LLike many people, one of the first things I did after the close of March in the UK was watch Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion. I had no idea about the nature of infectious diseases, and I was foolish enough to hope that a Hollywood movie could provide the answers.
Which is wildly stupid, I admit. The world is full of extraordinary epidemiologists who have dedicated their careers to researching and preparing for the kind of global pandemic that has brought humanity to its knees. If you had really been interested in learning something about Covid, you might have read some of his articles or seen some of his interviews. But no. Instead, I watched a made-up movie about a made-up disease because, in part, it was starring several pretty women. What an idiot. What an absolute and unforgivable fool I was to think it would be of any use.
Anyway, it turns out that Matt Hancock did the same. Speaking to LBC this week, Hancock revealed that seeing Contagion had influenced his vaccine policy. “In the film, it shows that the time of greatest stress around the vaccine program is not before its implementation, when scientists and manufacturers work together at the same pace, it is afterwards when there is a big dispute over the order of priority” , said. said.
To be clear, Hancock also pointed out that Contagion was not his main source of advice. But still, it is troubling that disaster responders have turned to Hollywood at a time of historic crisis. We already know that Boris Johnson has cited Larry Vaughn, the mayor of Amity Island, who denies sharks and baits catastrophes, as a figure to look up when times are tough. But what next?
A recent NASA analysis has suggested that Earth could be hit by a skyscraper-sized asteroid known as 99942 Apophis in 2068, resulting in an explosion 20 times larger than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated. Does this mean that, somewhere in Whitehall, high-level public officials are watching Michael Bay’s Armageddon and putting together a list of handsome and charismatic miners they can send into space to blow it up? Earth long ago was due to a cataclysmic supervolcanic eruption. Does that mean the experts huddle around a Dante’s Peak DVD? Seismologists repeatedly warn of a devastating earthquake along the San Andreas fault. Does this mean that scientists are preparing to breed an army of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson clones to finish him off?
That being said, Contagion was not entirely useless. There’s a helpful scene in which Kate Winslet explains the R numbers with a clarity that real-life scientists and politicians have struggled to match. The character of Jude Law’s conspiracy theory clearly predicted the harrowing effects of disinformation on a frightened population. And yes, the vaccination segment was relatively eye-opening. In the film, the rollout of vaccination hits a bottleneck and governments have to resort to a birthday lottery to get things moving again. The UK has avoided this so far, because it ordered its vaccines earlier and in larger quantities than recommended.
In fact, when you look back and see how badly Britain screwed up every element of the pandemic except the one specifically influenced by a movie, maybe I’m being too harsh on Contagion. In fact, is there any chance that we could have Steven Soderbergh as our health secretary?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism