While facing this new pandemic, it begs the question: Is it not just another disease, so why all this fuss? Are there not many other epidemics and pandemics that are killing more people?
The COVID 19 pandemic is ten times as deadly as the flu and twice as contagious. The recently identified coronavirus - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) has found its way to humans from wild animals. The organism and the disease is new to humans and, much more needs to be understood about it. In this globalized world, the coronavirus has spread like a wildfire, not respecting national borders, rapidly expanding to 114 countries and territories around the world (as of 11March). More than 118,000 persons have been affected, and over 4,200 lives lost.
Though 90% of the cases are concentrated in four countries, in more than 66 countries the transmission of the coronavirus is occurring locally - and not from imported cases. If the pandemic is not slowed down, it can overwhelm the other countries of the world.
In a period of four months this miniscule organism has brought the mighty human race to its knees. The pandemic is turning out to be great disrupter of societies, the way we function and go about our business. The pandemic reminds us of our common heritage and destiny as humanity. We are in this crisis together. How and when we get out of it depends on how well we work together to find solutions and to help each other.
‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.’ 1 Corinthians 12:26.
As a people of faith, when confronted with a new and emerging disease, what does God and humanity expect of us as people of faith?
We are called to love God and love one another (Mark 12:30-31, Matthew 22:37-39). Caring for each other, at all times, is part of that call.
We are called to stand with people and our affected community and serve. Our spiritual mothers and fathers have been standing firm, over millennia, through civil strife, invasions, famines, epidemics and economic collapses. As followers of Jesus, the church is a living witness of that resilient service. But we are expected to serve, in a way that will protect the society and the faithful, to remain healthy and to contain the contagion.
How will we do that in the times of the COVID 19 pandemic?
Prevention and care
There is no effective treatment against the disease except supportive care. Hence prevention and containment of the outbreak is the only way forward. If we do not prevent the free transmission of the disease, and reduce the force of the pandemic, it will decimate our older populations and overwhelm our health systems. The prevention efforts hinge on minimising person-to-person and object-to-person transmission. Let us not cherry pick what we want to follow and disregard key precautions. Let us follow them diligently.
Protecting the vulnerable
We personally might not be vulnerable. If you are younger and healthier, you may only suffer a mild form of the illness. But if you pass the virus on to an aged parent or parishioner or a person who has an underlying illness such as diabetes, lung disease or hypertension or a poor immune system ( such as those who are being treated for cancer with chemotherapy, or those who have benefited from an organ donation), it could cost their life.
Practicing our faith and serving with care
To keep social distance may seem counter-intuitive to loving and caring. In times of crisis, we seek to hold each other, and comfort one another. So in the context of a contagious disease, we have to reflect and modify the way we serve and interact with others and to protect ourselves and others , and still uphold our faith.
In the midst of the expanding COVID-19 outbreak, it is vital to maintain social distance with others, including greeting others with respect and dignity, but avoiding physical contact. It is important that while we gather as a worshiping community, we provide adequate space between each other and perhaps organize multiple services to reduce crowds. During these times, we have to reflect deeply regarding our vital acts of worship such as celebrating eucharist and the sharing of bread and wine. We have to practice them in a way that the disease will not spread and negatively impact our communities.
We have to postpone or reschedule large gatherings and find new ways to function in these exceptional times. If it is part of our religious practice, to venerate and pay respect to holy objects/ relics/ icons, then we should be able to do it without physical contact - so that these objects of veneration will not become a vehicle for the transmission of coronavirus.
Let us depend on reliable and evidence-based information on prevention, care and supportive treatment and let us follow them. We have knowledge on how to contain this outbreak. We have the faith that God will give us the grace and strength to work together with the health providers, scientists, officials and wider society to overcome this crisis. Let us also find out the risk that our own congregations and communities face, and take steps to reduce their vulnerability to the disease.
This pestilence, too, will pass. But what will be the cost humanity has to pay? What are we willing to do to limit the damage?
“WCC takes strong measures to protect from coronavirus” – WCC news release 13 March 2020
“WCC takes steps to prevent spread of COVID 19” – WCC news release 6 March 2020
“WCC leadership postpones central committee meeting in light of coronavirus” – WCC news release 28 February 2020
“As coronavirus affects ‘one human family,’ WCC emphasizes accurate information, practicing prevention” – WCC news release 14 February 2020
“Church leaders call for accurate information as well as prayers to overcome coronavirus” – WCC news release 7 February 2020