Most of us have never grappled with a swift-moving, incurable disease, even one that is not very lethal. We aren’t old enough to remember the Spanish flu.
We have become used to the idea that there are always vaccines, or medicines that have been tested. Now we are told—on train announcements, on signs, in emails—to wash our hands, a precaution that feels neither sufficient nor reassuring.
Meanwhile, the University of Bologna, the oldest academic institution in Europe, has been shut. Museums are closed. Soccer matches and conferences are cancelled. The medieval streets, witness to plenty of past epidemics—Black Death killed half the city in 1348—are strangely empty, as people heed warnings and stay home.
About half of my colleagues think these measures are a gross overreaction. The other half fear that they don’t go far enough.