The woman's downward-directed sneeze, in the narrow confines of PROOF Coffee Roasters, set off a silent chain reaction: A man at the counter cringed; three patrons shot germ-killing stares; and the barista continued her new habit of incessantly wiping counters with bleach and rubbing her hands with sanitizer.
This is life in a pandemic, when the emergence of the potentially fatal coronavirus has spawned strains of uncertainty: about the progression of the new virus, about the government's response, about the open-ended nature of our altered lifestyles. About one another.
The collective mind whirls. Will my mother in her quarantined nursing home be all right? Will my children get sick? Will there be enough hospital beds? Will we see the same high death rate as Italy's? Do I just have a slight cold, or is it a sign of something else?
Even common moments of good will have been modified. During a midmorning Mass last month at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church on the Upper West Side, the moment eventually came to exchange signs of peace — normally a handshake or a peck on the cheek. Instead, people flashed one another the V-for-victory sign. Just a few days later, Masses were ended entirely.
This creeping uncertainty can be fueled by the very steps taken to reassure. President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency; Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's dispatch of the National Guard to a "containment zone" in the Westchester city of New Rochelle. Do these steps calm us, or unnerve us?
Nina Haug, a student at the New York University School of Law, seems to embody much of this collective uncertainty. She is 25, bespectacled and hair-bobbed, and grew up near New Orleans. She knows from experience that emergencies like hurricanes mean people either evacuate or hunker down — but always together.
"Someone is sharing that fear," Haug said. "Right now, the reaction is to isolate."
With the law school transitioning to remote instruction, Haug is confining herself to her Harlem apartment with her dog, Tula, and her cat, Etta. She tries to prepare for exams, presuming they take place. But her thoughts also turn to the well-being of her parents in Louisiana, the four weddings she is invited to in the coming months — and the open-ended reality of living amid a threat that isn't coming at you like a hurricane.
Violence in India Threatens Its Global Ambitions 國內暴亂 影響印度全球地位
Until recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign to portray India as a rising power seemed to be ticking along despite troubles at home.
Much of the world remained quiet, or cautious, in recent months as India began locking up hundreds of opposition politicians and activists without charge across the country. Business executives say they are too afraid to speak out about shortcomings in the government's economic strategy. The press complains of government intimidation.
Freedom House, a nonpartisan democracy advocacy organization, flagged India as a major concern.
"The Indian government has taken its Hindu nationalist agenda to a new level with a succession of policies," the group said, "threatening the democratic future of a country long seen as a potential bulwark of freedom in Asia and the world."
In a rare move, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights filed a petition in India's Supreme Court to challenge a citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims. Some of India's closest partners have begun criticizing its treatment of Muslims and migrants, with condemnations coming in from Iran, the United States, Bangladesh and elsewhere.
"If India loses that secular, democratic identity, then it loses what makes it different than other countries in Asia. We are all watching the riots in Delhi and worry they are going down a dangerous road that makes it harder for us to be a strong advocate for India," said Rep. Ami Bera, a California Democrat who is the longest-serving Indian American in Congress.
One area where international officials believe that India may be particularly hurting itself is in its campaign to be granted a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council along with other nuclear powers. Speaking on condition of anonymity, several diplomats, including some from countries that have publicly pushed for an Indian seat on the Security Council, say that their governments are now reluctant to push the issue after India's domestic unrest has laid bare the effects of Hindu nationalism there.