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Netflix UK TV review: Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

Written by Arthur

Review Overview




8/10 Rating 8/10

This alarming, gripping and inspiring documentary is a chillingly timely watch.

Reading time: 3 mins

“It’s just a matter of time until the next pandemic is going to start. We don’t know when or how, but we know it will.”

Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak is one of the most terrifyingly timely Netflix releases in recent memory – with the exception, perhaps, of Season 2 of South Korean horror Kingdom, which charts the aftermath of a zombie plague. There are no undead hordes here, but lots and lots of scientists convinced of one thing: the next serious virus outbreak is on the horizon.

It’s been just over a century since a deadly influenza killed 2 billion people, and things have changed a lot since then, with billions more people living on the globe and transport and technology making it easier for them all to cross paths. Today, there have been more than 5,000 deaths from Covid-19, a member of the coronavirus family that moved from animals to humans and has swiftly spread globally from Wuhan in China this year. In the UK, at the time of writing, 21 people have tragically died after testing positive for coronavirus.

“We hoped to inform before, not after, another dangerous pathogen emerged,” Sheri Fink, a doctor and one of the show’s exec-producers tweeted back in February, and the programme certainly makes for chilling viewing, with its accurate predictions of how a virus can disrupt not only the travel industry but also food, financial markets and more.

“We’re basically human incubators. We can host a number of different diseases,” warns a doctor in one of many sobering observations. There is horror here to rival Steven Soderbergh’s thriller Contagion, but there is also insight and even hope, woven together with compelling storytelling.

The series focuses on the heroes on the front lines of the battle against influenza, from the scientists in Asia trying to develop a universal vaccine for flu to those facing backlash in the US from foolish adults alarmed by the concept of vaccinating their kids. The documentary is, in part, centred on the recent outbreak of ebola and charts the inoculation efforts in the Congo to save lives – there’s a commendable emphasis on work that can help people in developing countries for free.

“People’s fear factor kicks in before logic,” remarks another, whose problem is much closer to home: how to tell her kids what she does for a living without other parents at school finding out – and, inevitably, freaking out.

It’s not comforting TV in many ways, but, underneath the all-too-prescient science is an inspiring tribute to the experts who were dismissed only a few years ago by politicians and some voters, experts who not only know what they’re talking about, but also care deeply about making a difference. The strain and stress doctors put themselves under as they remain determined to help flu patients only puts themselves at risk of being vulnerable to infection too – and that’s not to mention the challenge of funding they already face. There’s even an episode showcasing the faith that inspires some medical professionals to aid and support others. The result is an urgent wake-up call for the world to be more prepared and alert to viral threats, but also a reminder that individuals, and systems, can help tackle the next epidemic – as long as they work together and with the co-operation of those in power.

The result is that rare thing: a simultaneously unsettling, helpful and worrying series you should both watch and avoid at all costs.

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