The news at the start of this new decade has been dominated by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation, which seems to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. For anyone who has read my letters for the Church magazine before, you may recall I spent four years living in that city and now over five years in Singapore. It is hard to write with any certainty about this topic as the situation is continually evolving, and so it was with some reluctance that I agreed to write a few words for this blog!
The virus was seemingly first identified in December 2019 when a doctor in Wuhan, Dr. Li Wenliang, posted in his medical school alumni group on the Chinese messaging app WeChat that seven patients from a local seafood market had been diagnosed with a SARS-like illness and were quarantined in his hospital in Wuhan. He warned other doctors to take care. However, the media reports that local authorities in Wuhan moved quickly to suppress this news and even accused him of rumour-mongering and asked him to retract the comments.
At the time of writing—Monday 10 February—, there are 41,000 confirmed cases and over 900 deaths worldwide, as we know, mostly in mainland China. The situation seems to be getting increasingly serious and looking more and more like it will become a pandemic situation. UK experts are warning there could be a sharp increase in cases in the UK. In China, tens of millions of people have been asked to stay home, offices and factories are closed, transport is limited, and there is a shortage of medical equipment, even basic equipment like surgical masks.
Here in Singapore, over the weekend people have become increasingly worried. Stocks of masks and hand sanitiser in shops have run out and long queues formed as people started to panic buy meat, vegetables, instant noodles, toilet paper, and so on. The Government have reassured people there is no need to panic and the queues have lessened somewhat since then. Schools have been asked to cancel external events, stagger lunchtimes and cancel any non-essential gatherings, like school assemblies and trips. The number of confirmed cases in Singapore has grown to 43 and the virus has spread from Singapore to other countries, including, of course, the UK.
The situation was made worse as it coincided with the Lunar New Year holiday when hundreds of millions of people worldwide return to their hometowns for family celebrations. Some of my ex-students and friends in Wuhan have been affected by this virus and have suffered. Thankfully, they seem to be recovering. Many millions are still not able to return to their homes or their jobs and this will have a great effect economically, politically and socially.
I have been in touch with Christian friends and contacts in Wuhan to reassure them of our prayers. What we can continue to do though is join our prayers with those of the President of The Methodist Conference, The Rev’d. Dr. Barbara Glasson, who sent the following statement, on Thursday 06 February, on our behalf:
“We thank God for all those who are heading medical research into the disease. At such times we realise that we are dependent on expertise, advice and cooperation from people across the world. We trust that the ongoing work of the Chinese health services, the World Health Organization and other medical experts will soon limit the disease and succeed in finding the causes and cure.
We are glad that the Church in China is strong both in numbers and faith. We know that you will be working alongside communities to help people be calm and to support those in need. Although we are many miles away geographically, we feel close to you in prayer. Please be assured of our concern for you all, and our shared faith in the love of Jesus who shows us his strength in our human vulnerability.”
Good News has been shared with me of Christians in Wuhan continuing to do good work; preaching in the streets and handing out supplies of masks along with Christian tracts. Their commitment even at this time has brought positive attention to the church in China. Officials, normally sceptical of church activities, appear to be more hands off and accepting at present.
The sad news as I write this article though is that the doctor who first alerted his colleagues to this virus back in December, Dr. Li, has sadly died of this same virus he sought to treat others for. It is reported in Chinese media that his wife is expecting a baby later this year. This has caused much upset and anger to many in China.
As with all such ongoing situations around the world where people are suffering and in pain, as Christians we continue to remember the individuals affected the most, and remember them in our prayers. We think of all those affected by so many difficult situations around the world at this time Amen.
Written by the Minister & Members