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What blockbuster movies have taught us about handling a global pandemic

Nations have taken different tactics to the COVID-19 pandemic with wildly different results. Each nation however have stressed that their approach has been based on the science, but it has played out far more anarchic. Yet, if we look to Hollywood, blockbuster movies have prepared us for dealing with a global pandemic. There are many […]

Nations have taken different tactics to the COVID-19 pandemic with wildly different results. Each nation however have stressed that their approach has been based on the science, but it has played out far more anarchic.

Yet, if we look to Hollywood, blockbuster movies have prepared us for dealing with a global pandemic.

There are many films centered around an epidemic or pandemic, take 1963’s ‘80,000 Suspects’ or 2011’s ‘Contagion’. 1950’s ‘Panic in the Streets’ showed that you need brains and brawn to combat an epidemic while 1995’s Outbreak highlights the conflict between hard-nosed military experts and soft liberal public health experts is well captured in Outbreak.

In real life, we have had few scientific superstars. Our own chief scientific advisor, chief medical officer for England and deputy chief medical officer have all lost lustre as the pandemic has rolled on and the experience has belied their projections.

Early in our pandemic, on 12 March, public-health expert Professor John Ashton appeared on Question Time. Just as depicted in numerous film and TV scenes, a Government spokesperson immediately pooh-poohed Ashton’s legitimate concerns about allowing mass events, the impact of the disease on care homes and call for mass testing – all since proved right.

The late Michael Crichton used his medical knowledge across the wide territory of The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Westworld and ER. Crichton specialised in the consequences of following science blindly, the negative effects of well-intentioned experiments, and the reality of hard decision-making in emergencies.

When we finally reflect on this pandemic, we might wish that we had had the benefit of Winslet’s film character (the compassionate great explainer committed to saving lives with no herd in view), a Laurence Fishburne (the competent Centers for Disease Control maestro, who would never mislead with faulty tests) and a Dustin Hoffman (the morally upright scientist seeking a cure).

Instead, we seem to have a dismal band of Contagion’s Jude Law (the conspiracy theorist peddling false drug dreams), Donald Sutherland (prepared to expend any number of poor people to defeat the virus) and Vincent Price (abandon the herd to its fate).

This is not even to mention the World Health Organisation (WHO) controversy. President Trump threatens to defund an organisation that the US has systematically underfunded for years.

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