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Home / Hollywood / ‘Even with 1% mortality rate, a lot of people will die’: Contagion writer reveals worst fears amid coronavirus pandemic

‘Even with 1% mortality rate, a lot of people will die’: Contagion writer reveals worst fears amid coronavirus pandemic

The writer of Contagion, Scott Z Burns, has reacted to the film’s renewed popularity amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and revealed what scares him the most about it.

hollywood Updated: Mar 13, 2020, 13:01 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Matt Damon in a still from Contagion.
Matt Damon in a still from Contagion.

Scott Z Burns, the writer of Contagion, a film that has seen a massive resurgence in popularity for its seemingly soothsaying analysis of pandemics amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, has spoken about the film, and the learning that could be taken from it to prevent the virus’ spread. Contagion was released in 2011, and Burns wrote the screenplay after researching the 2003 SARS epidemic and the 2009 flu pandemic.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh and featuring an all-star cast that included Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and others, the film told the story of a pandemic through the eyes of various characters. Its depiction of societal collapse, mass panic and lapses in policy have taken on new relevance in current times.

Asked about the film’s prescient narrative, Burns told Variety, “What was really important to the scientists that I worked with and Steven was that what we did was their best guess at what would happen with a pandemic. We didn’t see it with SARS, because SARS burned out very quickly. But I think we would have probably gone down the same path if SARS, which is also a coronavirus, had gained this kind of foothold. I wasn’t surprised that scientists were right. I have a lot of faith and confidence in science. There are other aspects of it that have been surprising.”

He added, “I hadn’t contemplated as a screenwriter what would happen in an administration where we defunded public health and defunded pandemic preparedness and defunded science, and then went one step further and discredited health officials who were trying to protect us. That was something, as a screenwriter, I never could have anticipated.” Burns was referring to the cuts made to the Centre for Disease Control’s budget by US President Donald Trump.


Asked about what he’s doing to stay safe, Burns said, “I am doing what public officials say. I’m washing my hands very often. I am avoiding large gatherings. And I think that’s all we can do now until we get a handle on this. Unfortunately, because our response was delayed, we’re way behind the curve. And to compound that, you have officials of the government saying this isn’t a problem or this isn’t a bad thing. I think to me, the scary part is, even though you may say that the mortality rate is around 1%, if 10 million people end up getting sick, that’s a lot of people who will die. Most of them, even if they’re old, some of my favourite people are over 70 years old. And we need to take care of them.”

Also read: Tom Hanks’ sons Chet, Colin share health updates after parents’ coronavirus diagnosis

As the global tally of infected cases has crossed the 134000 mark, with 75 cases in India, the film has risen to the top of the charts on iTunes, and has earned newfound popularity in China, the epicentre of the virus. In the film, the fictional virus originated in Hong Kong.

Actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, became the first Hollywood celebrities to make public their coronavirus diagnosis. They are currently in isolation in Australia.

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