It was a thriller movie that came out in September of 2011. Its subject was the outbreak of a deadly virus. The film was titled, Contagion. It was very successful at the box office. Steven Soderbergh was its very capable director. In it, a fast-spreading “mystery” virus wiped out tens of millions of people worldwide.
Enter the deadly coronavirus outbreak! Its connections to the disaster film are on the scary side. It was reported weeks ago in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Local scientists there claimed it started, like in the Contagion film, from animals and then jumped to humans. To date, 106 people have died in China from the virus and more than 4,500, they claim, have been infected. The disease has been confirmed in 17 other countries, including the U.S. where five people are being treated.
At press time, 17 cities in China have been shut down encompassing 50 million people, according to news reports, “as the virus continues to spread.” According to the British paper, The Daily Mail, a nurse in China has claimed, “90,000 people have been infected.” This story, like so many coming out of China, has yet to be confirmed.
Experts, however, at the MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, in London, UK, estimate that more than 100,000 people, not 4,500, were infected worldwide as of the January 26th date. The count depends on “testing,” they insist, and “not everyone is being tested, they underscore.
Wuhan is a city of about 11 million-plus. It is on lockdown! No one in and no one out. Before that quarantine order could be executed, however, about 5 million residents got out of town. The city as of January 28, reported 533 confirmed cases. What makes this virus particularly dangerous is that it has an “incubation period of one to 14 days,” according to news reports.
How big is a city of 11 million-plus souls? Take the population of New York City, 8.5 million; Los Angeles, 3.8 million; and then for good measure add Baltimore, around 620,000 citizens. When you do that, you start to come to grips with the immensity of the current virus problem facing the Chinese government and its health officials.
In the “Contagion” movie, the virus, which hit the U.S. hard, was spread by fomites, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture. The film did a really solid job showing how scientists identified, and eventually, contained the disease.
The virus in the movie, like with the Coronavirus, started in the Far East — the city of Hong Kong. The film also spotlighted the panic that can break out in a society where there is a loss of social order. Citizens are shown fighting desperately for drugs while wrecking a pharmacy that they believe will fix their problem.
Another virus expert, Dr. Howard Markel, of the U. of Michigan, maintains that “to put a ring around the city of the size of Wuhan with its population is unprecedented.” Markel is the author of the book, Quarantine. The Center for Disease Control has reported a “total of 110 people in 26 U.S. states are now being evaluated for coronavirus.”
The movie features some of my fave actors: Bryan Cranston, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet. The plot has a lot of twists and turns in it, too. Also in the flick, the disease spreads at a breath-taking pace. By Day 26, the death toll has reached “2.5 million in the U.S. and 26 million worldwide.” (Wikipedia) All the major health agencies in the U.S. are featured, along with international counterparts.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S has sent a plane to Wuhan, China, to evacuate American citizens, “including U.S. diplomats and their families.” The aircraft only has about 230 seats, while “about 1,000 US citizens are believed to live in the central Chinese city.” It was reported on January 29th, that 201 Americans were rescued from Wuhan and landed safely in California. (Daily Mail)
The coronavirus outbreak’s impact on U.S. businesses in China is not known at this point. Festivities for celebrating the Lunar New Year were also canceled in order to be on the safe side. Schools, too, were being closed until late in February. According to the New York Times, travel constraints imposed earlier on Wuhan and areas nearby, “have penned in 35 million people…and Beijing has restricted its bus travel.”
In the Contagion movie, a vaccine is found after Day 133 of the crisis, and the film soon ends on a happy note. Let’s all hope and pray that the coronavirus crisis comes to a safe and speedy end, too, and that the loss of lives is kept to a minimum.
Bill Hughes is a native of Baltimore. He’s an attorney, author, professional actor and hobbyist photographer. In his salad days, he worked on the docks as a longshoreman. Bill also played on three championship soccer teams: sandlot with Jules Morstein; high school at Calvert Hall; and college at the University of Baltimore.