A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 24

Pilgrims in Mecca. Hey, put that cellphone down, dude!

Wednesday, April 1

Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims to delay their bookings for the Hajj pilgrimage this summer, due to the pandemic. Some two million visitors were expected to make the trip to Mecca, which is a mandatory religious obligation for adult Muslims.

And in Wuhan, the subways have reopened after two months of lockdown. That’s good news.

But other news out of China is not so good—in fact, it’s downright distressing. “We’ve estimated in China that between 20% and 40% of transmission events occurred before symptoms appeared,” says one Hong Kong epidemologist. 

This means that you and your pals could be walking around right now, feeling fine for the next many days, and then find out you’ve had it all the time. 

The U.S. Census continues its hopeless quest. After receiving two previous, detailed notes, today I get a postcard warning me in microscopic type that it’s a violation of U.S. law not to respond to the census. Many people have time on their hands, but I bet filling out census forms won’t be their first choice of what to do. Still, the last time I did it, the Bureau asked lots of detailed questions about my earnings, etc., but this morning, as promised, it took only about 10 minutes to complete the questionnaire. 

I’ve just begun reading an e-book about the 1930s and ‘40s, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson. In his introduction, the author quotes a bit from Studs Terkel’s oral history of the Depression years: “Fear unsettled the securities, apparently the false securities, that people had. People haven’t felt unfearful since.” A similar response is doubtless brewing at this very moment. But in future years, exactly what will we fear? That’s something to mull over as I take my one-mile, afternoon walk.

Dinner tonight: lentil soup with hotdogs, corn muffins, green salad.

Evening entertainment: Two episodes of The Crown, including an extraordinary one focusing on a Welsh mine cave-in that killed 150 people, including many children, and the official response to it.

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