As a new coronavirus spreads within China and to other countries, I’m reminded of my time in Hong Kong during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak of 2003. Back then, I spent an otherwise beautiful spring wearing masks in public, but mostly working from home, as I reported on the disease and the struggle to contain it.

Every day at the same time – 3.20pm, if my memory’s correct – I checked an official Hong Kong website, which I trusted completely, to see that day’s new cases. I remember my relief as the number finally trended down. When it was over, it felt as though Sars had been just a shot across the world’s bow.

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