With coronavirus, life imitates art

We all know the aphorism, “art imitates life”. But at the moment, it seems the tables have turned. We have watched in several movies the disruption of the world by aliens, criminals, epidemics and other antagonists. We have sat with chilled drinks and popcorn watching how these entities attempted to destroy the world, and the efforts of the protagonists to stop them. But we did not see the same events we thought were only possible in movies actually happening in real life.

In 2011, famous Hollywood Director Steven Soderbergh produced a movie, Contagion, which narrates the spread of a virus from one woman to her family members and consequently other people in the society with no cure at hand and rising anxiety and panic in the minds of people. Sounds familiar?

Most interesting about these series is how closely related the source of the virus is. Like the coronavirus currently ravaging the world, the film’s version called ‘MEV-1’ is also thought to have originated from bats that spread to other animals.

In the movie, Beth, who had just returned home to Minneapolis from Hong Kong, falls ill and dies. Her husband, Mitch, returns home to find their son, Clark, dead too. This prompts the doctors to put him in isolation where the virus is diagnosed. The movie branches into different narratives with no one knowing the origin of the virus. Eventually, it is traced to China where a bulldozer knocks down a tree inhabited by bats in a rainforest. One of the bats relocates to a pig farm and drops a half-eaten banana. A pig eats the banana. A chef in a casino then slaughters the pig. Beth shakes hands with the chef, thereby contracting the virus.

When the coronavirus initially broke out in the city of Wuhan in China, the source of the virus was also unknown. However, recently, a team of virologists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology revealed in their reports that the new coronavirus’ genetic makeup is 96 per cent identical to the coronavirus strain found in bats.

A similarity is the bureaucracy that is involved at first in the unfolding COVID-19 case. There is a scene in Contagion where an agent from the Center for Disease Control tries to explain the necessity of informing the general public about the illness to some politicians but bureaucrats, who claimed he was trying to cause unnecessary panic, kept stonewalling him.

This is very similar to what the Chinese government did, and how a lot of governments around the world treated COVID-19. Many politicians, including United States President Donald Trump, and a few from Nigeria, dismissed the virus in its early days. Even the acting chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, reportedly said that the coronavirus was caused by corruption. However, as the pandemic progressed and became all too real, we adopted the methods practised in the movies such as quarantining and social distancing.

In the movie, due to the rapid spread of the virus, panic broke out amid people, which disturbed the social order. Amid these, certain individuals start to propagate rumours of conspiracy theories, seeing the spread of the pandemic as a bio weapon intended to cause terror in the society. A blogger in the movie, Alan Krumwiede, becomes popular during the pandemic by spreading conspiracy theories. At one point during the outbreak, he records a video for his audience, in which he tells them that he has contracted the virus and will be taking a botanical extract called ‘Forsythia’ as a homeopathic treatment. I am pretty sure that also sounds similar.

So many fake news, cures, theories and misinformation is circulating online sites, media, etc. about coronavirus and misleading people. I hope if you’re reading this, you decide to go to credible sources for your health information and not real life Alan Krumwiedes.

Another movie that easily mirrors the current life situation is The Last Ship, an American action/drama TV series, which depicts the attempts made by a lone naval ship to save humanity from extinction when the world was hit by a deadly virus, which wipes out a significant portion of the world’s population, about 80 per cent.

Although it could be said that COVID-19 has not taken the mortality toll of 80 per cent, more people keep surrendering to this virus every day. And compared to other historic cases of epidemics, it seems the COVID-19 will have a higher mortality rate.

The movie narrates the successes and failures, difficulties and challenges encountered by the researcher, Dr. Scott, who is asked to find the cure to the virus in the face of the selfishness of other country-specific governments trying to have the cure for themselves. Many hours were spent in the laboratory; various trials were carried out, materials and resources wasted. The movie depicts absolute determination to save the human race and the struggles encountered by the crew to save potential cure for humanity in the face of extinction.

We see the same playing out in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health officials and researchers work with dedication to not only stop the virus, but also to minimise its effect on every sector in the world. In The Last Ship, there is also a collaborative effort to save humanity from this epidemic.

The two series take things to awful extremes. At various points, there are riots and looting of food and supplies. Economies crash. Governments are overthrown. The virus mutates and people become zombies.

The reality we are facing is quite different, at least we haven’t got to that stage yet and we can only hope it remains like that.

Both movies end with the world being saved, but the coronavirus situation is still unravelling in the real world. Will things get better? Will the world return to how it was? Will we be saved like in the movies? Alas, those are questions that no one knows the answers yet. We can only hope we get a happy ending too like those in the movies.

In the meantime, stay safe.

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