'That was a movie, this is real life': stars of 'Contagion' reunite to send Covid-19 message

'It needs us to survive,' Laurence Fishburne says. 'So let’s not give it any help.'

Matt Damon and Kate Winslet, stars of 2011 film 'Contagion', send a message during the Covid-19 outbreak. YouTube
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The cast of 2011 thriller Contagion have come together again to release a series of public service announcements about the coronavirus outbreak.

Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Ehle filmed themselves at home, speaking about the importance of staying indoors, handwashing and social distancing. Their videos were compiled to form public service announcements, released in partnership with the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The film – funded by Image Nation Abu Dhabi – has unexpectedly become one of the most watched films in the world amid the coronavirus pandemic. The film was largely forgotten and, according to its distributor Warner Bros, in December it ranked as the 270th most downloaded film from the studio's online catalogue. This all changed after the outbreak. As of March 16, Warner Bros says it is the company's second most downloaded film, after the Harry Potter franchise.

"A few years ago, a bunch of us did this movie called Contagion, which we've noticed is creeping its way back up on the charts on iTunes for obvious reasons, given what we're all living through right now," Damon says.

He says Columbia University contacted the film's cast in the hope they would have a virtual reunion to deliver a series of public service announcements. “We readily agreed,” Damon says. “So everything you’re going to hear from us has been vetted by public health experts and scientists.”

In Contagion, Damon plays someone immune to a virus spreading across the world.

“That was a movie, this is real life. I have no reason to believe I am immune to Covid-19, and neither do you, no matter how young you are," he says. "This is a new virus and it’s going to take some time for our bodies and doctors to understand it."

He stresses the importance of social distancing, staying at least two metres from another person and avoiding group gatherings.

In her video, Winslet, who in the film plays an epidemiologist who tries to stop the spread the virus, speaks about the importance of handwashing.

“To prepare for the role, I spent time with some of the best public health professionals in the world," she says. "And what was one of the most important things they taught me? Wash your hands like your hands depend on it.”

Soap and water are all you need, Winslet says, taking viewers on a step by step demonstration of how to effectively wash your hands.

“Remember, there is only one way to get Covid-19,” Winslet says. “If you come into contact with a droplet from the cough or a sneeze of an infected person and that droplet finds its way into your eyes, nose or mouth. Gross, but true.”

In his video, Fishburne, who plays a doctor at the Centre for Disease Control in Contagion, talks about how to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“Most of us aren’t old enough to remember the diseases smallpox and polio, and the way those diseases affected billions of lives," he says. "But they changed the way we lived and it looks like Covid-19 is changing the way we live. At least for a while.”

Fishburne highlights a scene in the movie that deals with the tradition of handshaking. “You extended your hand and showed the person you were meeting that you didn’t have a weapon,” Fishburne explains. “Now the way we’re living it’s like we’re all carrying a weapon and we don’t even know it.

“It needs us to survive. So let’s not give it any help.”