The Special Event cards all indicate they may be played "at any time". Are there any restrictions to "any time", i.e. in the middle of someone's turn? Suppose an epidemic card has been drawn -- can the airlift card be played while the epidemic steps are being applied?
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This question was answered by Matt Leacock, the designer of Pandemic, on BoardGameGeek:
So in your specific example, yes you can play the Airlift card, if you do so between Epidemic steps.
In a more recent BGG thread concerning the 2nd edition, the designer has clarified this rule further (be sure to check Matt's second post there).
In short, in the 2nd edition at least, you cannot use a special event card after an epidemic card has been revealed, until the epidemic process has been fully played out. An exception to this is the "Resilient Population" card, as stated on the card.