The World Council of Churches (WCC) is urging people to share accurate information, practice prevention, and pray for people suffering from the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) outbreak.
The primary source for accurate information about coronavirus is the World Health Organization (WHO), which has the role of directing international health within the United Nations system and leading partners in global health responses. In turn, the WCC has been sharing information from WHO, said Dr Mwai Makoka, WCC programme executive for Health and Healing.
Fake news has been distracting people from responding effectively, said Makoka. “During an outbreak like this, fake news raises false alarms and false confidence alike. There has been a misinformation boom.”
Because the WCC is linked with member churches, the WCC has a trusted access in many communities, said Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. “We are able to channel the latest information to our member churches,” he said.
Religious leaders have a responsibility to share correct information, and that includes links to WHO situation reports, added Kurian. “It’s important that church leaders read and depend on reliable information before they make statements and before they declare something. It’s important not to depend on hearsay,” he said. “It’s also very clear that we need to be in solidarity with those affected.”
At the same time, Makoka said, the outbreak is evolving very quickly, so accurate and timely information is a moving target.
One humanity, all affected
If one part of humanity is affected, we all are, Kurian noted. “Pray for people affected by coronavirus, and try not to discriminate or exclude people who may be perceived as having this infection but in fact do not,” he said.
At the same time, churches have a responsibility to prevent further infection, Kurian said. “If people have been in contact with someone who has been infected by the COVID-19, and if they develop a fever, cough and breathing difficulty, it is important to avoid public contact, and they should seek health care,” he recommended. “Church leaders and communities must be informed and be accountable, but at the same time prevent stigma and discrimination if they feel there is an infection spreading.”
People can choose to avoid travel unless it’s essential, Kurian added. “Try to limit travel and unnecessary meetings if there is a risk of transmitting the infection.”
Makoka also suggested adjusting church activities if an outbreak is affecting a community. “If it means rescheduling church services, I think church leaders should use utmost wisdom to see that they are adhering to health regulations, and it’s important that we not feel fatalistic,” he said.
We also need to pray and support new research, medications and vaccines that could combat the coronavirus, said Kurian. “But we also need to understand that, in the context of our one human family, coronavirus is occurring amid many other diseases already affecting communities such as measles, malaria and HIV, and the communities that have poor health infrastructures suffer the most,” he said. “Let us provide the support that communities need to strengthen and protect themselves. This is an opportunity for reflection about how we work with governments and WHO, an opportunity to put our minds and actions together.”