Lessons From SARS: How to Deal With the Coronavirus — and Our New Normal

What I learned about outbreaks from surviving a pandemic

Bryan Walsh
Elemental
Published in
8 min readJan 31, 2020

--

Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Follow Elemental’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus outbreak here.

AtAt the end of March 2003, I was sitting on the sofa of a borrowed studio apartment in Hong Kong, wondering if I was going to die.

It was the spring of SARS. The outbreak, which had originated in late 2002 across the border in the neighboring Chinese province of Guangdong, had been growing throughout the month. In Hong Kong, where I had been working as a reporter for TIME magazine for nearly two years, there had been a burst of cases at one of the city’s main hospitals. There were smaller outbreaks in cities like Singapore, Taipei, Beijing, and Toronto. By the middle of the month, the World Health Organization (WHO) had issued a heightened global health alert over the respiratory illness, which didn’t yet have an official name. Worst of all, on March 30 an explosive outbreak in Hong Kong’s Amoy Gardens apartment complex sickened more than 200 people and fueled fears that the SARS virus — which up until then had mostly spread in health care settings — was now active in the community. And if the SARS virus could spread easily in public through the air like the flu, what could stop it? Which is how I found myself…

--

--

Bryan Walsh
Elemental

Journalist, author, dad. Former TIME magazine editor and foreign correspondent. Author of END TIMES, a book about existential risk and the end of the world.