Since its outbreak last year, the coronavirus COVID-19 has thrown the world into disarray. Travel to the U.S. from Europe has been suspended for thirty days; financial markets have plunged; Saudi Arabia cancelled the Hajj—the list of impacts is already infinite. In China, where the virus started, eight hundred million people are under some kind of restriction. One of them is Peter Hessler, who is currently based in Chengdu, and who has been quarantined with his family since January. New cases of the virus have been falling recently, which the Communist Party touts as a sign of its success, but Hessler has concerns about the costs of mass quarantine. “When you’re building a society, it’s not just about numbers or the death rate. Mental health is a big issue, and being free from fear is a big part of that,” he says. “And the public-health people will tell you that it’s better to have an overreaction than an underreaction, but I think there may be a point where that’s not true.” Plus: the staff writer Lawrence Wright recently wrote a novel—yet to be published—about a pandemic that sounds a lot like COVID-19. “The End of October” is a work of fiction and firmly in the thriller genre, but what he imagined in it turns out to be eerily close to what we are experiencing now. “I read the paper and I feel like I’m reading another chapter of my own book,” he tells David Remnick.