‘Contagion’ Writer Slams U.S. Government for Coronavirus Response: It ‘Isn’t That Hard’

The pandemic movie most of us haven’t thought about in ten years–Contagion–is back in the zeitgeist. The 2011 film tells the tale of a fictional (but realistic) contagious virus as it wreaks havoc all across the globe. The star-studded cast (which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Matt Damon, to name a few) play scientists, journalists, politicians, and regular people trying to handle the viral outbreak. In light of recent events, Contagion is now going viral.

The coronavirus pandemic seems to be taking up most of our brain space–and our news broadcasts these days. Contagion’s screenwriter, Scott Z. Burns, was recently interviewed about his take on the uptick in interest for his movie–as well as his thoughts on the COVID-19 situation as a whole. Burns, who did a great deal of research on pandemics for Contagion, says there is much more the United States government should be doing to prevent a public health crisis.

A laboratory operator at the National Reference Center for respiratory viruses in Paris in January 2020 | THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images

‘Contagion’ is trending on many streaming services amidst coronavirus pandemic

Scott Z. Burns, the scribe behind Contagion, told Slate that many of the film’s fans have noted the eerie similarities between the movie and the COVID-19 panic of 2020. The disease portrayed in the movie is much more deadly than the coronavirus. Still, it’s an infectious disease that’s spreading around the world. The fear, the mistakes that humans make in reaction to their fear: all of it feels very familiar.

What sticks out to Burns, however: the government response.

When people tell me that the movie seems to be coming true, I say to them that I never contemplated that we would have leadership in this country that would gut our defense. This administration and this Republican Party talk about protecting people with a wall, and we can’t even make test kits.

As many journalists have pointed out, the U.S. is far behind other developed nations in terms of the number of tests we have available. Testing patients for the disease is a crucial first step in fighting it.

“Unfortunately, this administration has decided that is what it wants to do,” Burns shared. “When you look at the amount of testing this country has done compared to other countries, that’s the part that is scary to me.”

The screenwriter behind the 2011 pandemic movie says the government isn’t doing enough to deal with COVID-19

The Contagion screenwriter continued his criticism of the Trump administration for their response.

“It’s stunning to me that our administration can’t put out a clear message on how people can stay safe and what our tools are for understanding the current spread,” he lamented. Burns compared the government response in Vietnam to the United States–and we’re already behind.

Marion Cotillard Contagion
Marion Cotillard attends the Contagion premiere | Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

There’s a video on YouTube of a song they did in Vietnam about hand-washing and how important it is. Why isn’t our government putting out public service messages about how to stay safe? That isn’t that hard.

‘Contagion’ writer warns that this is the biggest public health mistake we could make in reaction to coronavirus

The writer went on to describe what he fears will be our “gravest mistake.” And that would be: “not giving the space and the microphone and all of the support to the public health officials who can help guide us through this.” The Contagion writer doesn’t have a good feeling about the censorship that appears to be happening in the administration.

I have read accounts in the press that Dr. [Anthony] Fauci isn’t really allowed to speak until Mike Pence has approved his messaging. That is concerning to me. If we are going to get through this in the best version, it is by empowering those people and giving them the resources that they need.

Contagion screenwriter
Scott Z. Burns attends the Contagion premiere | Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

The other worrying factor in the coronavirus chaos? It’s “an election season.”

“The leaders in this country get to decide how to take care of people,” Burns argued. “And it concerns me very much that anybody on either side would use this moment to advance any sort of political agenda or edit the story to make themselves look good, because that is not helping.”