Epidemics and the silent warnings of history
In this article we analyze the impact of epidemics in two Portuguese cities –Lisbon, the capital city, and the city of Porto, the hub of an intense commercial network –from mid-19th century to the end of the first decade of the 20th century. As port cities of a peripheral European country with a vast colonial empire, the prevention and application of measures to combat epidemics were fundamental in the, often precarious, management of health crises. They still are. We argue that the reflections provided by these two case studies can be easily recovered as guides in the analysis of the present global COVID-19 pandemic. Historical research on how societies have dealt with epidemics and pandemics in the past help to understand current moments of uncertainty and astonishment, and to outline effective future actions to avoid the adverse conditions that put the whole world to a halt, in 2020. Of course, it is impossible to predict the exact dates and contours of the occurrence of the next epidemics, but it is necessary to create the local, national and global conditions, both at the environmental and social, as well as institutional and political levels, which will enable us to respond to them effectively. More than react, we need to anticipate.