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I am referring to the situation described at the start of the movie 28 Weeks Later, where Britain had been wiped out by a zombie virus, but the rest of the world was (seemingly) fine.

What would be a realistic, competent response from the rest of the world to this described scenario? For example, when would the rest of the world decide to send in the first party of human beings? What would they do? How would they make sure the virus was contained? When, if ever, would civilians be reintroduced into Britain?

(In the movie itself, the rest of the world, or at least the US, implausibly decides that it is a good idea to try resettling Britain just 6 months after they think the last infected human being has died. They also have--in proportion to the risks involved--extremely poor security, quarantine systems, etc. Hence making for a horror movie.)

Edited to add more details (all based on the movies):

  • Movies were in 2002 and 2007, so let's just say this situation is set in the present day.
  • Upon infection through saliva or blood (and possibly other bodily fluids), the infected person becomes a zombie within 10-20 seconds.

  • Zombies' main (only?) preoccupation is to go around hunting for other non-zombies to bite. It seems like their goal is just to infect other non-zombies, rather than to actually eat the flesh of other non-zombies.

  • For some reason, zombies don't bother attacking other zombies.

  • Zombies can't swim.

  • Zombies are stupid and will generally simply starve to death on their own.

  • Assume that the rest of the world has not suffered a single case of such infection, but the whole of Britain has been wiped out. (Say a few million Britons managed to stay uninfected and escape Britain.)

  • To keep things simple, assume that the virus can only be spread in the same way that Ebola is spread:

Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with

  • blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, - breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
  • objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
  • infected fruit bats or primates (apes and monkeys)

Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food. (CDC.gov)

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    $\begingroup$ I think it's circa 2000 A.D.: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/28_Weeks_Later $\endgroup$ – Dronz Nov 1 '14 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ Can the zombies swim the channel? $\endgroup$ – Compro01 Nov 2 '14 at 7:11
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    $\begingroup$ To extend from @Compro01 - Can they use the Channel Tunnel? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 3 '14 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ I, a British myself, would wonder if the rest would even notice the difference in our behaviour, but well... $\endgroup$ – Patric Hartmann Dec 12 '14 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ There's a great Brexit joke in here somewhere. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Sep 28 '16 at 11:00
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I think that NATO and/or one or more former-commonwealth countries, such as Canada and Australia, would carefully monitor the situation there and in nearby countries and send in small, well-escorted teams. These would be in completely sealed protective suits to gather and study the disease, perhaps by using boats and helicopters and an island with no cover as a quarantined staging area. The island would only receive incoming supplies (not sending anything back, to avoid any risk of spreading infection). But I think they would probably also choose a land location with land access to the infected territory, but only over open ground, constantly under guard, including flood lights and means for evaporating even heavy fog, so no zombies could ever reach the base.

They would probably establish similar secure bases, in which to quarantine and study survivors. They'd study the heck out of the disease and any infected, until they had proven to their satisfaction that they completely understood it, and how to eradicate all infectious substances, before attempting anything like repopulation. How and when they did that would depend on what they found out about the disease, how to destroy it, and its source.

That's what I think a realistic, competent response would be. However, noting how competent current world governments seem to be (e.g. Ebola responses), I am probably being very generous in my estimate.

Addendum: As @JohnSmith pointed out, the Chunnel needs to be thoroughly blocked to prevent zombies using it to get to France. And as @JanDoggen and @ShadoCat pointed out, there would need to be a blockade stopping land and sea traffic trying to leave the isles. The blockade would need to be able to detect craft even in very bad weather, and probably they should develop something to make sure no infected swimming or floating bodies are leaving, either, which might be hard to contain.

Even more threateningly, it occurs to me that they'd want to study birds as soon as possible, as birds migrate between England and other parts of the world, and if any birds become carriers, that could lead to infections outside Britain... and it might already be too late. Maybe a heroic ornothologic behavior specialist could quickly develop some sort of enormous electric wall around Britain that could deter birds from flying in and out. Of course, there is probably also an insect vector, and possibly a fish vector as well. Things are not looking up.

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  • $\begingroup$ They would also put up a naval blockade (that includes covering the air) to prevent adventurers from getting in. $\endgroup$ – user3106 Dec 29 '14 at 9:11
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    $\begingroup$ @JanDoggen, you just need to worry about the adventurers getting out. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Apr 5 '17 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ You might also want to close the Chunnel. Otherwise you have zombies in Paris. $\endgroup$ – John Smith Apr 5 '17 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ Options for easily defensible land bases that are small enough to be cleansed quickly would be the Isle of Wight and Sheppey (Sheppey has a bridge which would be an excellent choke point while still allowing significant traffic if necessary. $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Jul 24 '18 at 8:30
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In any epidemic situation, there are a few important steps to work through:

  • Contain
  • Treat
  • Learn

Containment

Fortunately for the rest of the world, Britain is an island. That takes care of a fair bit of containment - unless the disease is water-borne. However, the fact that zombies can't swim could be an indication: can they not swim physically, or is it because they avoid water deliberately? If it's the latter, there's a fair chance that the disease is not water-borne.

If, however, the world is unlucky and the zombie virus is water-borne, there may be more of a problem. As soon as a zombie falls into a river or the sea, there is a chance that viruses could escape into the water and travel to other land. But fortunately again, the currents around Britain prevail to the north and as such the virus would be transported that way, away from most land.

The last point here is viral survival. Virus lifetimes range up to 48 hours in water so could potentially last to France if the current was the right way. However, the English Channel has an average temperature of 15 degrees C - too cold for bacterial replication if we're dealing with a bacterium, and potentially cold enough to kill off a virus. The rest of the world is pretty safe.

Treatment

Pretty much dealt with. Most of Britain has been wiped out. However, host countries for the survivors might want to keep an eye on them... they might still be asymptomatically carrying the virus.

Learning

Here's where the response really comes in. The rest of the world is going to want to know that they're safe from this happening to them. So, some possibilities:

  • Send scientists

    Other developed countries may want to send some scientists to do some testing on the virus. However, they'll want to be both armoured and armed - possibly some of the armed forces should go with them, as guns are shown to be effective in the film (the scene at the motorway checkpoint). They probably won't need biohazard suits, because the virus doesn't seem to be airborne, but armour in case the zombies try an attack would be a good idea.

  • Repopulate

    As you say, the rest of the world will want to reintroduce humans to Britain. This is going to have to be done cautiously, in case there are any traces of the virus left around. For the first few weeks at least, the settlers may all want to carry some sort of weapon - I'd recommend a firearm and a blunt heavy weapon like a baseball bat (there's a reason they're used in robberies). This would make sure that anyone who became infected could be 'dealt with' swiftly to pose minimal risk to everyone else.

    Lastly, the authorities who sent the settlers will probably want situation reports frequently. That means the settlers either need to take equipment with them, or enough skilled workers to get power plants running again to power transmitters.

Summary

The rest of the world is pretty much safe from this epidemic. What they need to do now is learn from it and then repopulate, making sure the virus can't come back.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget the Channel tunnel through which also non-swimming zombies could leave Britain. So there would certainly have to be measures to prevent that. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Nov 3 '14 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ Asymptomatic Carriers are actually one of the themes of the second film. There is a woman and her son who can be infected, carry and transmit the rage virus but show no symptoms. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Dec 5 '14 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Biohazard suits are a must - exposure to infectious materials lingering on surfaces are a likely risk, depending on the survival of the virus outside the body, but micro-droplets aerosolized by a gunshot (to say nothing of close-up splatter from beating them with a baseball bat) would be a severe risk. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 5 '17 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ "As you say, the rest of the world will want to reintroduce humans to Britain". This could get messy in a political sense. Let's assume this is after Brexit is completed. Who has control over the island? NATO? The UN? A zombie apocalypse doesn't leave much damage to vital infrastructure, so there will be a lot of land, houses, and leftover goods that are basically free for the taking. With all of the indigenous British population wiped out, who has rightful claims to all of that stuff? I'm thinking probably British ex-pats who were abroad when it all happened, but... what a mess. $\endgroup$ – Charles Burge Apr 6 '17 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlesBurge It may just be "whoever gets there with enough guns first". Britain has historically been a very good place to be when you're getting attacked, because it's an island. Get there first with enough weapons to clear the land and enough naval force to defend the island, and it's yours. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Apr 6 '17 at 22:20
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I could see how the remaining population of Britain would pressure their government to return earlier than might be safe. However, the security in 28 Weeks Later is so wildly incompetent that it ruined the movie for me.

First problem is containing the people. There are three ways off: air, sea, Channel Tunnel. The Chunnel is easily dealt with, seal it off.

People escaping on aircraft are a problem. They would have to be detected and intercepted which means radar coverage from every angle. The existing civilian radar network does not provide complete coverage and can be evaded. You'd need to ring the island with military grade radar. A combination of ships at sea and coastal installations at all possible coastlines in range: which is most of the Western Hemisphere. Administratively, no aircraft which cannot prove its point of origin would be allowed to land. Aircraft from Britain would have to be diverted to airports with quarantine facilities, or simply shot down.

People escaping on boats are a much bigger problem. An aircraft can be seen by radar at a great distance, boats cannot. Many will slip through. To combat this, a literal coast guard would need to be established: an armed militia of people patrolling the coastline both on land and in the sea in small boats. It would also be their job to find any washed up bodies and call in cleanup crews.

The containment cannot hope to succeed with such a huge border to defend. They must assume some will slip through. To deal with this, rapid response teams would be positioned some miles inland and ready to respond to anything which slips through, or any attempt to overwhelm the coast watchers.

Then you pray the disease doesn't jump species. Infected birds would be a serious problem. Killing the bird population preemptively may be considered, I do not know how that would be feasible.

Quarantined people would be stripped, washed and examined for wounds. Because of the extreme potency of any fluid contact, all their possessions and vehicles would be burned. Fortunately, because the disease is so rapid and obvious, people would not need to be quarantined for long. However, prudence suggests they be held for observation just in case.

Prudence would suggest keeping them all quarantined to a refugee camp, but keeping a few million people isolated would prove impossible. Instead, they would be allowed to resettle, but required to have regular check ups, discouraged from travelling, and required to register with the authorities. Given how people are reacting to the Ebola scare, refugees would likely be prejudiced by the locals. Probably anyone with a British accent would experience fear and shunning. Children would be kept out of schools. People would be refused by shops. Finding work would be difficult.


People involved in containing the outbreak would be required to wear boots, bite-proof coveralls, gloves, headgear and face protection when on duty. They would all carry radios. Civilians might use commercial equipment and cell phones. Military personnel would use their MOPP equipment and their chemical warfare training. All would be trained to always stick with their partner, to report in regularly, to report contacts immediately, and in the necessity of killing an infected person immediately.

Rescuing hold outs may be attempted. Short wave radio would provide a way to contact the mainland. Much of England can be reached by helicopter, and a safe landing spot such as the top of a building could be arranged.

An efficient, safe disposal system would need to be worked out. Questions would need to be answered. Does burning fully destroy the disease? Can it be spread in the smoke? How long does the body remain infectious after the zombie has died? Raids would have to be conducted to obtain specimens, fortunately dead ones, and taken to the quarantined facilities to be tested.

If it is found that smoke spreads the disease, this further complicates the matter beyond just disposing of bodies. Fires in the abandoned cities will inevitably break out and the smoke could reach France, the coast of France would have to be evacuated. To reduce the chance of fire, incursions would be conducted to secure utilities and safely shut off industrial facilities.

If it is found that the bodily fluids remain infectious long after death, the island may never be safe to return to.


Returning to the island to stay would be considered after perhaps 90 days when all the zombies should have starved, plus how long it takes for dead bodies to no longer be infectious, plus some padding for late infected hold outs. The problem will not be zombies, they will be dead. The problem will be 60 million bodies, their bodily fluids and other infectious materials.

This would be a purely military operation. The first priority would be to establish a defensible clean zone. A small area easily isolated would be chosen, such as the South West peninsula. Landing in Penzance, the A30 could be used as a defensible border with a clear field of fire. The city would be searched, block by block, house by house. Bodies would be handled by special teams and disposed of, probably by burning in the street.

Teams consisting of a sniper, a spotter and squad automatic weapon would be posted on rooftops to cover the advance. The sniper would take care of individuals while the SAW could cover packs. The spotter would remain alert, find targets, and make reports.

After Penzance is cleared, the advance would continue to cover the whole of the South West Peninsula. The the A30 between Longrock and Hale would provide the next defensible border. The advance would proceed, using highways as defence lines, across the island. Once the military has swept an area, trained civilians would follow them to perform a more through search.

During the long, tedious sweep and clear likely with little or no combat, there will be the temptation amongst the people on the ground to slack off. Maybe not wear all their hot, bulky equipment. Maybe not thoroughly check every building. This would have to be combated by keeping their shifts short and rotating people off the line frequently. This would require a much larger force than otherwise.

Clearing large cities would be a tedious nightmare. It would have to be conducted meticulously to get every room in every building, every sewer and utility space, every car and tunnel. The cities may never be declared safe. If that is so, it is questionable whether curious civilians can be kept out of the cities, and that would threaten the ability to return to the island.


If civilians are allowed to return, they would first settle in the easily defensible, easily searched, easily defended south west corner. Civilians would be educated about the disease, how to identify infectious materials, and what to do when they find it. They would be encouraged to wear long sleeve clothing and sturdy gloves when going into abandoned buildings or the wilderness.

Returning refugees to the island has a bonus effect: it quarantines them. Just in case any of them are carriers.

During the whole operation, the island would still be consider a quarantine zone, including the "clean" zone. An island transfer point would be established, perhaps on one of the channel islands. Ships and aircraft would be allowed to go from the mainland to the transfer island, or from the transfer island to Britain, but never from Britain to the mainland. Anyone returning would first have to pass through quarantine. Equipment would largely be on a one way trip. Aircraft and ships would be dedicated to the run between Britain and the transfer point.

There would need to be established a time when Britain is declared safe and the most odious/expensive elements of quarantine dropped. Several metrics could be used. One would be to simply count the bodies found. Another is to track the rate of bodies found. Another is to track the rate of infections. Once some percentage of the population is accounted for, the rate of bodies found falls below a certain threshold, and the rate of infection is basically nil, the island can be declared safe.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm guessing you have a loyalty to the West County. I'd suggest changing your plan to start in the Highlands of Scotland in cold weather when any roaming zombies would die of exposure quite quickly and as a result of this you're more likely to find unaffected civilians with local knowledge/intelligence. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Sep 28 '16 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix I'm an American. I chose Penzance by looking at a map for a defensible position with a clear border that's easy to supply. I'm less concerned about roaming zombies and more about those in the many, many, many buildings. Scotland would make transport and supply from France difficult with rougher weather, longer supply lines, and having to overfly or go around the rest of the unsecured island. $\endgroup$ – Schwern Sep 28 '16 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ You're forgiven then ;) You can supply Scotland fairly easily from Ireland (or The Netherlands) and would give you shorter supply lines. It also has a much lower population density while still having a reasonable density of military bases. You'd be able to get more materiel in place before contact rather than risking going straight into action from the beachhead. The more pleasant climate of the West Country is likely to give you more surviving active hostiles than the Scottish approach. The roads are pretty shocking in both cases. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Sep 28 '16 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Geronimo Play around with Nukemap. Here's a Trident II airburst over London. The big orange circle is for 3rd degree burns, but that isn't reliable to stop zombies, especially ones inside. The little yellow circle is the fireball, barely reaches the Palace. And then the whole city will be on fire with nobody to stop it. Just an enormous, radioactive mess and you still don't know if you got all the zombies. $\endgroup$ – Schwern Jul 25 '18 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Schwern, I think you are right. It will just create a mess instead of clearing the area. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Jul 26 '18 at 18:12
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Isolation

It would be considered a dead zone and isolated from everything else, until they come up with ideas about how to kill the zombies without any risk of infecting the rest of the world.

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Those zombies wandering around England represent an incredible terrorist threat. Any sensible government is going to seek to destroy them even at considerable cost. Any useful weapon in the conventional arsenal will be employed, non-persistent chemical weapons will be used if effective. Whether nukes would be employed would depend on the governments and the nature of the targets.

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  • $\begingroup$ nuke them from orbit was my instant reaction on reading the question title :) $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jul 24 '18 at 5:48
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This was asked years ago, but came up in my sidebar (who knows why). What's missing from the answers is: who is "the rest of the world"? Britain is a great piece of real estate, and if it's suddenly empty, people are going to want to get a piece of it. The questioner says that re-colonizing Britain six months later was far too soon (I haven't seen the second movie) but I would imagine that every other country and many individuals had their eyes on the prize, too. Therefore fear of zombies would be balanced against the risk of coming in second. Sooner or later, somebody would take the chance, and logically, it would be whichever group was the most optimistic (or desperate). Naturally everyone else would think that the first mover wasn't cautious enough.

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  • $\begingroup$ great piece of real estate, people are going to want to get a piece of it Who is this valuable to? I can't imagine "Zombie-Infested Hellhole but with great views of the coast" being an easy sell $\endgroup$ – Sydney Sleeper Jul 24 '18 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ @SydneySleeper Ever checked out real estate prices in California? $\endgroup$ – workerjoe Jul 5 at 3:44
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I always wonder why people think of Britain as an island? What, a chunnel?

Nobody tried to escape to France, and got a zombie leaping onto their boat at the very last minute, and it drifted... anywhere in the next 28 days? It's like the miracle of Dunkirk has ceased to exist.

I'd foresee some real architectural developments with security setups. ie: doors that open inwards, keypad entry, locks, etc. Put a few more doors everywhere, and some real walls, and you've got no problems that can't be sanitized away when people don't respond to intercoms, and don't look right through the security glass viewports.

I expect that Britain wouldn't be over-run, with such a quick onset time. There's not time for carriers to get anywhere before they turn. You'd need a longer time to actually traverse barriers/distance (hard to spread the disease when the carriers can't get in a vehicle and drive to the next city, nor last long enough on a bus (without turning it into a charnel-house) to get to the next town). Without directed (thoughtful) walking, it will be difficult for random zombies to random-walk to every town. Much less traverse bridges (blocked by any non-idiot) and rivers.

If you give it a slightly longer onset time, you will then have problems keeping it limited to Britain.

In any case, I expect there would be people on the ground studying it, probably with guns, and/or make-shift barriers to control populations during the first outbreak. NATO, or 82nd airborne, even if you ignore Britain's actual military declaring martial law (or equivalent).

Which means they'd have experience with getting those enclaves over-run during the first outbreak, and would have developed procedures and means to not get over-run after the first outbreak decimated Britain.

I'd expect quite a bit of exodus - by any means - which could be significant people movers: cargo ships, planes packed to the gills (cargo spaces) and flying low to prevent freezing, round trips to Ireland and France by anything that floats, tugs pulling trash-barges (which would be rapidly emptied by every willing hand who wanted a berth for their child/themselves), millions attempting to swim the channel (or at least get far enough out to be safe and await pickup), etc, etc. Queen, Royalty and peerage would all make it out, probably with servants and retainers. So, well more than a few million people.

And likely your resettlement would come from these now wealthier Britons. And ex-pats.

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    $\begingroup$ I would say that people think of Britain as an island because it is an island. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Jan 9 '15 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ @KSmarts one could argue that it is in fact multiple islands and not a single island... but that makes little difference in this scenario. $\endgroup$ – YoungJohn Aug 25 '15 at 20:29
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Given the extreme infectivity, short incubation period and physical danger to healthy persons caused by this disease, I believe that the only logical solution is that of "salting the ground", i.e. foreign militaries incinerate everything in infected Britain from one end to the other using conventional and/or atomic weapons. Burn Britain to the ground, kill and incinerate everything that moves or grows until there can be no doubt that anything found alive on British soil must have come from elsewhere.

The first wave would be airborne, dropping waves of conventional incendiary, fuel-air and atomic munitions, targeting the coast first and then moving inland.

After that, the second wave would be land-based, with biohazard-sealed flamethrower tanks moving in waves to mop up anything left unincinerated by the airborne bombardment.

Only then would infantry with biohazard suits and flamethrowers be permitted to set foot on British soil (ash?) to clean up the last few zombies that may have been lucky enough to escape the first two waves.

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Humans are animals. Therefore, we will act based on fear. And an entire country dying would incite a lot of fear.

There are 2 possibilities, depending on how that fear is handled:

  1. Wildfire approach: Just abandon the island and wait till all the zombies are rotted away (like waiting for a wildfire to burn itself out).
  2. Scorched Earth approach: The island is bombed until the zombies are gone. Nukes optional but quite likely.

After that, repopulate once infection is no risk anymore. Since poor people looking for a better life take more risks, those are probably the first new settlers. If they get infected and die, the next attempt will likely be in a few years, or faster if their current lives are bad enough.

If enough sufficiently equipped humans truly get scared of their lives, they'll switch to the "kill it with fire" or "nuke from orbit" approach really fast. The only reason nukes haven't been used in wars after WW2 is because people were more afraid of retaliations than of what their own nukes would do.

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