As of March 11, the World Health Organization is now describing the global outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 as a pandemic. This move is not to incite fear but to motivate governments to ramp up their preparation efforts before the virus spreads more quickly in their own countries.
Mennonite Church Canada has updated web resources it offered to congregations during the flu pandemic of 2009-10. Visit mennonitechurch.ca/outbreakresources for suggestions for how congregations can implement pandemic preparedness—from worship planning to continuity plans for how giving can still be maintained.
In its assessment of the risks associated with gatherings, such as church services, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says, “Mass gatherings can contribute to the transmission of respiratory pathogens, such as the virus causing the current outbreaks of COVID-19. However, mass gatherings are not homogenous and the risk must be assessed on a case-by-case basis by Public Health Authorities, event organizers and relevant planners.” PHAC offers suggestions for lowering the risk of transmission in gathering settings.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, MC Canada asked its eight International Witness workers to implement its pandemic protocol beginning at the end of January:
• George and Tobia Veith have stayed in Malaysia since that time and are waiting for instructions for the reopening of their university in China. They plan to return on March 21 and will undergo self-quarantine in their home for two weeks before beginning classes.
• Bock Ki Kim and Sook Kyoung Park are following suggestions from public health officials in South Korea. Meetings, training sessions and worship services were cancelled beginning in late February and will likely continue until at least March 20.
“Please pray for wisdom and peace as situations change and decisions are made about locations and work,” says Jeanette Hanson, MC Canada’s International Witness director.
According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as of March 11 there were more than 118,000 confirmed global cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in 114 countries, and the number of deaths had reached 4,291. The majority of cases were in China and South Korea, places where confirmed cases are now decreasing. Italy and Iran have become new epicentres for the virus. The entire population of Italy is now on lockdown, with people only allowed to leave their homes to go to work.
As of March 12, Canada has confirmed 103 cases of COVID-19:
• 42 in Ontario
• 39 in British Columbia
• 14 in Alberta
• 7 in Quebec
• 1 repatriated Canadian
The death of an 80-year-old B.C. man with previous underlying health conditions was attributed to COVID-19 and believed to be transmitted by someone in his nursing home. This is the first COVID-19 death in Canada.
“At this time, we pray for those who are sick and for their loved ones who worry and care for them while trying not to spread the virus,” says Doug Klassen, MC Canada’s executive minister. “We also pray for calm and a steadfast spirit within our congregations as we prepare to meet the needs of those affected by this disease and join in efforts to contain it, wherever we are.”