RESPONDING TO THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Corona Iran

By Donnelly McCleland

The coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in Chinese prisons, authorities said, as cases climbed outside the epicentre in Hubei province. More than 80,000 people have been infected in China since the outbreak began, apparently in an illegal wildlife market in the central city of Wuhan late last year. China’s death toll was 2,663 as of the end of Monday [24 February], up by 71 from the previous day. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the epidemic in China peaked between 23 January and 2 February and has been declining since. The virus has emerged in 26 countries and territories outside mainland China. The WHO warned that the window of opportunity to contain the international spread of the epidemic was rapidly closing. Italy has become a new front line in the fight against the coronavirus with 220 cases reported on Monday, rising from just three on Friday [21 Feb]. The death toll in Italy is seven. Fast-spreading outbreaks in Iran and South Korea, and first cases in several countries in the Middle East, have fed worries of a pandemic. South Korea has the most virus cases in Asia outside China and reported its ninth death and 60 new cases, for a total of 893. (Reuters)

Global reactions

Global reaction to this latest virus outbreak has been varied, and sometimes deeply concerning. It is important to note that only about two percent of the coronavirus-infected people have died (and mostly within China, and close to where it originated), and most of those who died were older people with existing, underlying health conditions. By comparison, the death rate was nearly 100 percent during the early years of the 1980s AIDS pandemic and the 2014 Ebola crisis. In the US, existing influenza strains have already caused the deaths of 16,000 people and hospitalised 280,000 others during the 2019-2020 flu season alone, according to preliminary estimates from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

Within China there was a major backlash after it was discovered that a doctor,  Li Wenliang, who had posted an early warning about the unknown virus in a private chat room (which was then leaked online), had been detained by authorities and forced to recant, and then later died (in February), after being exposed to one of his coronavirus patients.  China has been criticised for being “too slow” in their response, while simultaneously being accused of “draconian methods”, when they imposed ‘lockdown’ conditions on Wuhun (a city of about 11 million residents) and other towns and cities. Experts remain divided over the effectiveness of the mass quarantine and travel bans – some are convinced it has bought authorities, both in China and the rest of the world, time to respond effectively; while others believe it may not have ultimately reduced the total number of infections and deaths.

The quarantine of the cruise liner, Diamond Princess, in Japan (since 5 February) has resulted in the highest cluster of patients outside of China, with at least 621 passengers and crew being infected. The ship was carrying 3,700 people in total. Japan has been criticised for their response, but maintained that there was no medical facility large enough to admit more than 3,000 people at once.

Another cruise liner, MS Westerdam, was allowed to finally dock (and disembark) in Cambodia after it was turned away by four other nations. None of the passengers were said to have exhibited symptoms, but a passenger later tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus in Malaysia, having left the vessel. Efforts are now being made to track down those who have left the ship and Cambodia’s decision to let the vessel dock – a move praised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – is now being questioned.

Most recently, in Ukraine, dozens of protesters attacked buses carrying evacuees from China. The evacuees were on their way to a health spa for their two-week quarantine period. President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the protesters to show empathy. Ukraine’s security service (SBU) said a fake email claiming to be from the health ministry falsely said some evacuees had contracted the virus. Ukraine has no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.

Another deeply troubling reaction to this crisis has been the rising Sinophobia – anti-Chinese sentiments. Chinese people all over the world have had to face the humiliation of name-calling, bullying, being banned from schools and public places, and some have even been assaulted, simply because they are Chinese. The coronavirus is a deadly disease that needs to be taken seriously, however, it shouldn’t be used as a basis to dehumanise 1.4-billion people.

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

There is much to be learnt from brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter where they live in the world. And it’s encouraging to see how pertinent and relevant Scripture is, no matter the circumstances. This has been so true for the current Covid-19 coronavirus crisis in China. INcontext has received extensive feedback from numerous contacts, from the ‘underground’ church in China, as well as Chinese missionaries living and working in other nations (who maintain close links to their churches back home in China). The general consensus appears to be that this virus outbreak is an opportunity for the Church in China to reach out to those who do not yet know Christ. Pastor Dennis Balcombe of Revival Christian Church in Hong Kong explains: “The Chinese characters for ‘crisis’ are 危機, pronounced ‘wei-ji’.  The first character means danger, and the second is opportunity.  Through the danger to life itself from the Covid-19 virus, the Church has an opportunity through prayer and gifts of healing to bring healing to the sick, and to preach the Gospel.” He went on to say: “We are all quoting and standing on the promise of  Ps 91:5-6: ‘You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day,  Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday’.”

A wake-up call

Many Chinese believers have shared that this latest virus outbreak has been a tremendous wake-up call for the Church – some felt that the Church had become complacent, lost some of their zeal and become too comfortable with the increased material prosperity. One brother expressed how he felt that the virus was a form of God’s judgement on China for their arrogance in the way they have tried to make the Bible more compatible with Chinese culture and belief. There has been a huge outpouring of repentance from the Church, both for themselves and for their nation.

Despite the Chinese government’s restrictions on movement, many believers have ‘met’ with others online to pray fervently during these challenging times. There has been a tremendous increase in devotion from believers as they’ve cried out to the Lord. Many who had become ‘lukewarm’ in their walk with the Lord have experienced a revival in their spiritual lives.

Some have also expressed how this has been a reminder that we are living in the ‘end times’ and we should not be sitting around, but actively engaged in ushering in His Kingdom.

Practical faith

Chinese believers have also used this outbreak to reach out to others in practical ways: handing out facemasks (which were scarce in some places), together with Scripture verses (tracts); waterless sanitisers (again with Scriptures); delivering food to those who could not go to the market; and other necessities.

According to one Wuhan (the epicentre of the epidemic) pastor the entire atmosphere – the way the public views Christians – has improved greatly, as Wuhan used to be one of the areas in China where Christians have been most persecuted (the degree of persecution of Christians varies widely all over the country, partly depending on the attitude of local officials).

Prayer, unity and breakthrough

This virus outbreak has sparked and given momentum to the 24-hour prayer movement, and 3-day, and even 21-day fasts have spread throughout the nation. There has been a deepening of unity, despite many congregations not being able to meet with one another in person. Families meet and fellowship, while online services have grown in number and frequency.

One believer expressed: “I am sensing the Lord is also using this plague to ‘let His people go’ from the control of the Chinese Communist government as God has heard the cry of His people about the severe persecution they have faced in recent years. I have been reminded of Is 19:21-25, especially verse 22. And my prayer is that the ‘healed’ China will continue to be a mission force to fulfil verses 23-25 and the ‘Back to Jerusalem’ vision.”

“So the Lord will make Himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the Lord and keep them. The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; He will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and He will respond to their pleas and heal them.” (Isaiah19:21-23)

Please pray with us:

  • For the virus to be effectively contained; and there to be an empathetic response to those infected, and those working to combat the epidemic
  • For Christians to learn from their Chinese brothers and sisters in responding to a crisis
  • For Chinese believers as they respond and reach out to their neighbours with love and the Gospel of hope.

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REUTERS/WANA NEWS AGENCY

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