“The average person touches their face three to five times every waking minute. In between, we’re touching doorknobs, water fountains, and each other.” Kate Winslet’s character in the movie Contagion.
I couldn’t agree more with Steven Soderbergh’s premise of single touch transmission, first two people are infected, then four, then sixteen. Within just a few weeks, millions of people are carrying the virus. And keep in mind that for the first 48 to 72 hours, no one knows they’ve been infected, so they don’t take precautions. They continue to spread the disease.
What I don’t agree with is how far he carried the story. Contagion is more like a sampling, an overview of what could happen. It takes us to the brink of disaster and then pulls back.
In real life, I don’t see that happening. For instance, in the movie, Matt Damon and his daughter are running through their neighborhood. A house is on fire, and the daughter asks, “Where’s the fire department?”
As a virus becomes epidemic, fire departments, and police departments, will suffer casualties just like the general public. As manpower drops, these departments will have to be more selective. A single dwelling will be left to burn because firefighters are busy with a blaze at an apartment complex or an office high-rise.
Here comes the next glitch. Sure, public buildings have automatic sprinkler systems, but when you have multiple fires out of control because there are too few firemen to respond, how long before water pressure is non-existent? And how long before employees of the water company, and the electric company, and the phone company are all down with the flu and we lose these services altogether?
So now we’ve got uncontained fires keeping pace, or accelerating beyond the initial disease. And I haven’t even touched on the most insidious aspect of a pandemic. The spread of panic and carnage. I’m talking about the looters here, and the damage they will inflict on the world.
It starts out innocently, squabbling over the last case of bottled water at the grocery store, or cutting in line for one of the remaining 25 bottles of Theraflu at the pharmacy. But then looters will escalate from stealing food to grabbing armloads of designer blue jeans and DVDs. People will die over i-Pads.
The mob mentality that we humans are so good at, will quickly become the driving force in any pandemic.
I watched the footage of the aftermath of Katrina. A man was wading waist deep in water with a television balanced overhead. Where was he going to stash that TV for safe keeping? What was he going to plug it into? Who was going to steal if from him in the next block?
What about the riots in London? Cars were overturned and set on fire, buildings were looted and burned. For four days, citizens rampaged over the shooting of a 29 year-old man.
This looting factor will be the ultimate destruction of the world’s population, not the virus. And it will be impossible for the police, or the military, to control this lawlessness. They simply won’t have the manpower.
So once all the stores are gutted, the delivery trucks hijacked, and the warehoused ransacked, where will the looters turn next? To your neighbor’s house? To yours?