Pastoral Perspectives

Confronting 2019-nCoV Outbreak Today

The World Health Organization declared on Jan 30, 2020 a global emergency in the wake of the Novel Coronavirus outbreak. The epi-center for the disease is the Chinese city of Wuhan. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “This is the time for solidarity, not stigma” in combating the disease. “The only way we will defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation,” He further added “We are all in this together and we can only stop it together.”

The clock is ticking. Here’s how quickly the disease leaped from a localized animal virus to a worldwide concern:

Dec. 12 — First case of mystery virus identified in Wuhan, but Chinese authorities keep silent.
Dec. 31 — Unknown virus credited with causing 27 cases of “pneumonia of unknown cause.” Chinese health authorities finally make this public.
Jan. 1 — A seafood market in Wuhan is investigated as the possible origin of the outbreak.
Jan. 9 — First death in Wuhan attributed to 2019-nCoV.
Jan. 13 — Virus spreads outside China for first time.
Jan. 27 — Global stocks tumble on fears of the spread of the virus and China suspends trading in Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges. U.S. arranges to evacuate embassy personnel and other citizens from Wuhan. U.S. officials urge travellers to avoid all non-essential travel to China.
Jan. 29 –  It has killed 132 people in China and sickened more than 6,100 worldwide, the great majority of those in China. (source:

According to WHO, as of 6 Feb the figure stands at 491 deaths and 24554 confirmed cases.

Amidst the uncertainty, there are many anti-Chinese sentiments. Even amongst those in the faith, one called the Corona Virus the “Death Angel”. He even described China as having a “godless communist government,” and claimed that “plagues are one of the last steps of judgment.” He attributed it to the spiritual rebellion that is in this country, the hatred of God, the hatred of the Bible, the hatred of righteousness.

Incidentally, in the Chinese Zodiac system, 2020 is the Year of the Rat—the animal that spread pestilence-carrying fleas across Europe in the 14th century. Almost 500 years ago, the Black Death killed about half the population of Europe, the plague re-emerged in Luther’s own town of Wittenberg and neighbouring cities.

German Christians in Wittenberg – facing the re-emergence of black plague in 1527 – called on Protestant reformist Martin Luther for guidance. The question is

Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague, Luther declared those in ministry, “must remain steadfast before the peril of death.” The sick and dying need a good shepherd who will strengthen and comfort them and administer the sacraments—lest they be denied the Eucharist before their passing. This included service providers and health care professionals, as well as ministers and pastors, and also elected leaders, law enforcement and security personnel.

Luther even calls on civilian “Christians to seek opportunities to tend to the sick as tending to Christ himself (Matt. 25:41–46). Out of love for God emerges the practice of love for neighbour,”  When deciding whether to leave or stay, Luther trusted that Christians “will arrive at a faithful decision through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. “When did we see you sick?” ask the righteous in the parable of the sheep and the goats, to which Jesus responds, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:39–40). If and when the coronavirus encroaches upon our communities, how will we faithfully respond?

“Participation in aiding the sick arises out of grace, not obligation.” Concerned Christians can pray specifically about the coronavirus crisis. The potential for panic is real. But rather than stirring up fear and paranoia, the buzz about the 2019-nCoV is giving Christians an opportunity to rise up in faith and fervent prayer. The Church in China has issued a call for collective intercession.

“The biggest problem is that health care workers, who are taking care of sick patients, don’t have enough protective gear, and this puts them at greater risk of catching the virus while they’re taking care of patients.”

As Christians, we can pray for the crisis:

  1. For the government pray that they make well-informed, evidence-based decisions for their people. In their heart of hearts, they’re trying to prevent the spread of this virus, but the methods used may not necessarily the best. Pray that they continue to be or are transparent with people and respond appropriately.
  2. For the health-care workers pray really hard for protection. There is a lack of resources in some countries.
  3. For those infected, pray for healing and recovery. The mortality rate is climbing, which is not good and the speed at which people are getting sick is unsettling.

Observe Singapore’s “seven habits” for good hygiene:

  1. Avoid contact with live animals and consumption of raw or undercooked meat;
  2. Avoid crowded places and close contact with people who are unwell;
  3. Wash hands with soap frequently;
  4. Wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose;
  5. Cover your mouth with tissue when coughing or sneezing and dispose of the tissue immediately afterwards;
  6. Seek medical attention promptly if you are feeling unwell;
  7. Observe good personal hygiene.

Rev Tan Cheng Huat (Non-resident Missionary to SQ)

February 9, 2020