In his 1827 novel I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), Italian author Alessandro Manzoni writes about the improbable journey of two lovers affianced in a time of plague. The story is fiction but was thoroughly researched by Manzoni to capture the incredible impact of the pandemic on 17th century Milan.
The fatality rate of the plague has been estimated between 30% and 60% but Manzoni points out that the more ruinous part of the disease was its impact on the citizenry itself:
The image of this supposed danger beset and tortured the minds of the people far more than the real and existing danger.
COVID-19 has had the same effect – spurring whole swaths of our society to embrace seemingly irrational policies and promote fear-mongering amongst our friends, family and neighbors.