Fear is Contagious

A side-by-side comparison of the movie “Contagion” and the COVID-19 pandemic

The movie “Contagion” was released on September 9, 2011. When the COVID-19 pandemic came around in 2020, people noticed striking similarities between the themes and plotlines of the movie and the pandemic happening in real life.

“Contagion” is all about a novel, or new, virus that spreads across the world and has origins in Hong Kong, China. The movie features doctors from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an epidemiologist from the World Health Organization (WHO), a freelance journalist/conspiracy theorist and a family from Minnesota. One of the major themes in this movie was the large amount of video angles of people touching surfaces and being in close contact with others, showcasing the contagious nature of the virus.

In the movie, a woman from Minnesota gets back from a business trip to Hong Kong right before Thanksgiving. She starts experiencing basic flu-like symptoms of a cough and fever that quickly develop into severe symptoms including a debilitating headache, seizure and death. Her six-year-old son experienced the same symptoms and died as well. The woman’s husband and son’s stepfather were  quarantined, but it was later revealed   that they were immune carriers. A major part of the movie was the husband completely quarantining his daughter to protect her from the virus. 

When pathologists do an autopsy of the woman, they discover a disease previously unknown. With a handful of other similar cases popping up in Hong Kong and London, the CDC and WHO start research into what the disease is, where it came from and how to treat it. One of the main elements of the plotline was the CDC and WHO attempting to keep the public from panicking about the outbreak, which only led to conspiracy theories of them lying to the public and in turn a mass panic. 


Here are some scary similarities between the movie and the real-life pandemic.


  1. In the movie, the “ground zero,” or origin of the virus, is in Hong Kong, China with its first case in November. The “ground zero” for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was in Wuhan, China with its first case on December 12, 2019. 
  2. In the movie, the CDC and WHO learned that the unknown disease was a respiratory virus that spreads by close contact of an infected individual or something they touched and is highly contagious. SARS-CoV-2 is also a respiratory virus that spreads in the same manner. While this is not a significant similarity, as a lot of viruses are like that, the other similarities throughout the movie start to get spooky.
  3. In the movie, the research showed that the virus, referred to as MEV-1, had both bat and pig DNA and mutated rapidly. In the end, it shows the audience that the virus was spread from a bat in the wild, to a pig at a farm, to a food market, to a restaurant, to the chef and finally to the woman from Minnesota who turned out to be patient zero. SARS-CoV-2 originated at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan and is thought to have been spread by a bat. SARS-CoV-2 is also known to mutate rapidly and has shown to bypass immunity by vaccination or previous infection. 
  4. The movie depicts and discusses social distancing, usage of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves, quarantine for those who are sick or exposed to MEV-1, emergency overflow pop-up treatment facilities for the sick, mass graves and temporary closure of businesses and schools. All of these instances occurred to some degree during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  5. There was also heavy politicalization, propaganda and conspiracy theories surrounding the MEV-1 outbreak in the movie. The freelance journalist along with thousands of like-minded individuals made claims that the CDC and WHO were lying and keeping the public in the dark about MEV-1, that there was a cure, that the virus was created as a weapon and that a bunch of companies were financially benefiting from the outbreak. The COVID-19 pandemic brought along lots of propaganda, political party separation and conspiracy theories. A few of those theories included that the CDC and WHO were lying to the public, the media exaggerated severity of illness and case numbers, the pharmaceutical companies had financial gain, the virus was manufactured in a lab as a bioweapon and that the virus was not even real.
  6. In the movie, there was immense panic among the public that resulted in riots, stores being wiped clean, violence due to limited supply of medicine and food, and home break-ins. While the COVID-19 pandemic was not as violent, there was a rummaging of stores for food and other resources because of public panic. 
  7. One of the main plotlines of the movie was the development of an emergency vaccine to protect against MEV-1. The development of the vaccine was fast, its integrity was questioned by the public and conspiracy theorists told people not to get it because the CDC was lying. When the vaccines started rolling out, people were chosen randomly by birthday since there was limited supply. People were also given wristbands to show that they had been vaccinated. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergency vaccine was developed quickly and its integrity was also questioned. Conspiracy theorists claimed that the vaccine was ineffective and that it even had a microchip in it. When the vaccine was new and limited, they were given out by priority of need. Vaccine cards were given out to show proof of vaccination. 


When watching this movie, it was surprising to see just how similar it is to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you want to get your brain running in circles, take this movie for a spin. The similarities shown in this film are so shocking that chills will fill your bones. 


“Contagion” can be watched on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play Movies & TV.