COVID-19 : Panic or Compassion?

A hopeful message delivered by Neil Hellewell. Oasis Lite MCC, Christchurch, 1st March 2020

It has been a busy week this week within the DHB. Plans have been developed for possible Coronavirus – or what is now known as COVID-19 and made ready. Other work has been paused to ensure that as much preparation has been made. And on Friday – the inevitable did happen. The first diagnosis of COVID-19.

What was also inevitable was the panic that it caused. Stories on Saturday of panic shopping, people desperate to stock pile tissues and alcohol gel and other supplies.

Fear like this is understandable – and yet the sad facts are the way that the media have delivered the information on COVID-19 is stirring and stoking that fear, which I believe is unreasonable. In fact the common flu results in significantly more deaths worldwide this this current infection.

The people that are most at risk tend to be men, over 60 and people who have regular contact with potential infected sources (such as front line health care workers). If you are someone that picks up the flu easily – or struggles to get over chest infections due to other conditions – there are basic things that you can do

  • Avoid close contact with people (stay at least an arm’s length away)
  • Wash hands frequently, especially before contact with people, before eating, after coughing or sneezing
  • Alcohol-based hand rubs (ABHR) are also an option
  • Practice good cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or cough into elbows, and wash hands)

 The precautions for the flu, are the same ones that the world is following for COVID-19

As things escalate – and they probably will do – there are some important lessons to learn from fellow Christians across the world.

With much of the world in turmoil as the coronavirus outbreak sweeps across Asia and threatens other continents, Christians in Wuhan, at the epicenter, are using this opportunity to share their faith. Their efforts deserve to be recorded as an exemplary example of Christian testimony.

On February 11, a reporter was surprised to encounter Christian evangelists handing out gospel leaflets packaged together with face masks.

It was a welcome respite from the misery, confusion and anger the city has seen since the start of 2020, a sign of hope even in extreme circumstances.

A video which has generated 100,000 views on the Chinese social networking app WeChat shows that the group of Christians from Wuhan has been handing out masks and other protective gear their church received from donations across the world.

The leader of the faith community. Preacher Luo stated not even the virus can stop them from preaching the Gospel message, albeit with volunteers wearing protective gear.

He believes that now is an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love and the message of hope, as many Wuhan inhabitants suffer from trauma, despair and frustration.

Other faith groups found that in the early days of the outbreak, as the coronavirus paralysed the government and exposed the incompetence of the local authorities. Churches often delivered masks and protective gear accurately and efficiently in the early days of the outbreak, whilst the rest of China recoiled in horror as the government-sponsored Wuhan Red Cross failed to distribute much needed resources to the frontlines, leaving many medical staff exposed and frustrated.

As many N95 masks lay idle in the Red Cross warehouses across the country or got siphoned off by Wuhan local officials, a Christian group managed to deliver 400 boxes of N95 masks, 1000 boxes of gloves and 1000 protective goggles to the Wuhan Central Hospital, the workplace of the deceased whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang.

So while we wait for Bishop Tamaki or other radical evangelicals to blame the entry of this virus into New Zealand on some random reasons such as the existence of Mosques or Gays – Christians in Wuhan are living proof of the best qualities of humanity; they offer us a glimmer of hope in this world full of suffering and paranoia towards the epidemic. Their composure and efficiency, as well as their love and strength, stem from their faith. This is a great lesson for us all.


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