On Campus

We Have Seen the Spider

Reading time: 3 minutes

For the past few weeks, the news on Coronavirus have been blasting non-stop on multiple TV channels, online news outlets, and social media, Italian and elsewhere alike. These news have piled into clouds that literally take sunlight away from my friends. The shadows casted by Coronavirus across the sea has been hanging over my friends for days, long before the first case of infection in Italy was reported. In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, the King of Sicilia, Leontes, believes his wife and his best friend has been unfaithful to him merely because his mind’s eye has somehow sensed intimacy between the two in front of his real eyes. Leontes uses his imagination wildly and immaturely, which eventually poisons his mind as he speaks the following lines:

How blest am I
In my just censure, in my true opinion!
Alack, for lesser knowledge! How accursed
In being so blest! There may be in the cup
A spider steeped, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected; but if one present
Th’ abhorred ingredient to his eye, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
With violent hefts. I have drunk, and seen the spider. (II. i. 47-56)
—- The Winter’s Tale, Act 2, scene 1

The Spring Festival this year was as bland as a cup of lukewarm water, and the streets were somehow bleached eerily by the wintry sun near Porta Romana. With a surreal sense of clarity, I can recall explicitly that on the day of the Spring Festival, January 25, I went to my friends’ apartment for some Chinese dumplings. There were supposed to be four of us, which would make a perfect group for some post-meal mah-jong. However, two of them were too afraid to even get out of their room, as they believed that any outdoor activities might expose them to tourists coming from mainland China, and they had been surviving on Glovo and Deliveroo for a while. Ergo it was just the two of us. With the National Spring Festival Gala playing on Youtube, clips from the hospital in Wuhan and patriotic verses voiced by the gala hosts accompanied our tacit meal; at a certain point, the ocean of red costumes and stage decorations made us reach for the stop button almost simultaneously and both opted for a walk outside.

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Although there were already a huge amount of information regarding where / what kind of protective mask would be the most appropriate for Covid-19 virus in our Bocconi WeChat group, both my friend and I have not yet purchased the masks. We naturally walked into the pharmacy at street corner as we made the turn from Via Lazzaro Papi to Corso Lodi. Despite the lack of N-95 3M protective masks, my friend paid for the regular gauze masks. She quickly stashed the masks in her pocket, so we walked out of the pharmacy quite naturally. None of the passersby was wearing masks, and this was the case when my friend had found out none of her classmates was wearing one inside the classroom. So what is the point of buying them?

In 2019, the World Health Organization estimated 99,000-200,000 deaths from influenza-induced lower respiratory tract infections alone. Every year, 400,000 people die from seasonal flu globally. The mortality rate of the 2019 Coronavirus infection is not known yet, but is estimated to be around 2.5%, which is higher than the ~2% annual respiratory mortality rate reported in 2019 (NCBI). According to The Guardian, 72,436 cases of Covid-19 virus infections have been confirmed by health officials as of February 17. The first few cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus were reported to be found in a fish market in Wuhan last December, and those infected displayed symptoms resembling pneumonia. Soon, many people were reported to have shown similar symptoms, ranging from fever, cough, shortness of breath, to pneumonia, kidney failure, and even death. Like any influenza, Covid-19 is believed to be an airborne virus mostly transmitted through aerosolized droplets or dust particles; this way, transmission becomes relatively easy among crowds.

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Up to today, no case of Covid-19 infections has been reported in Milan. I wonder what it’d be like if the news hadn’t reached Milan, or Coronavirus hadn’t been reported at all. I’m not saying ignorance is bliss, but being exceedingly preoccupied with the virus would not provide help in any form. On the contrary, it could make things worse.


N.B. This article was written on February 18 2019.  There are already more than 100 confirmed cases of  Covid-19 infection up to this point. Please take appropriate precautions: stay hydrated, eat well, get enough sleep, stay away from crowds, wash your hands with soap for 40+ seconds, and wear facial masks when necessary etc. The list is non-exhaustive, but anxiety won’t do you any good.


  • ECDC. Factsheet for health professionals on Coronaviruses. Jan. 30, 2020. Available here;
  • Global mortality associated with seasonal influenza epidemics: New burden estimates and predicts from the GLaMOR Project. Paget et al., NCBI. Oct. 22, 2019. Available here;
  • Shakespeare, William. The Winter’s Tale. Folger Digital Text. Ed. B. Mowat and P. Werstine. Folger Shakespeare Library;
  • What is coronavirus and what should I do if I have symptoms? Boseley, Devlin, and Belam, the Guardian. Feb. 18, 2020. Available here.
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