“Everyone knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world,” observes Albert Camus in his novel The Plague. “Yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet plagues and wars always take people by surprise.”
Camus was imagining a fictional outbreak of plague in 1948 in Oran, a port city in northwest Algeria. But at a time when the world is reeling from a very real microbial emergency sparked by the emergence of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, central China, his observations are as pertinent as ever.