A Letter from Judy Chan, serving in Hong Kong
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In late December, Hong Kong was becoming aware of reports from mainland China about a dangerous new virus that was rapidly spreading, especially in the Wuhan area. Immediately, this brought back memories of the panic of the 2003 SARS epidemic. Over 1,700 people were diagnosed with SARS in Hong Kong, and 299 died. That is a death rate of 17%.
As confirmed COVID-19 cases in China continued to increase, Hong Kong was put on alert in early January with reduced hours for hospital visitors and enhanced screening of travelers from Wuhan. Still, there were no community-wide restrictions, and we carried on as usual. However, we started wearing surgical masks again, just like during SARS, and kept an eye on the news. The Lunar New Year was approaching in late January when many people would travel to and from Hong Kong for family reunions.
On January 23, Hong Kong reported its first case, a 39-year-old man from mainland China, who had recently traveled by high-speed train to the city. Then one by one, the number of infections increased, with most coming from visitors across the border.
Following six months of anti-government protests in the second half of 2019, many Hong Kongers were impatient for the authorities to take urgent action to protect the health of Hong Kong’s citizens. They demanded that the government close all entry points from mainland China into Hong Kong. This was a complicated situation, as there are 12 entry points by land, sea, and air. Many cross the border every day for work, school, or business. The situation became even more tense after hundreds of Hospital Authority workers went on a one-week strike to demand that the government close all borders. The medical profession, in particular, expressed frustration since they were most at risk on the frontlines with limited medical protective gear and overloaded hospital wards. Eventually, the government closed nine of the 12 border points and instituted a mandatory two-week quarantine for all travelers from the mainland.
As far as churches, the Catholic Church announced it was closing public worship in late February until further notice. The Anglican Church and other Protestant churches followed. Many churches have put their Sunday worship online so members may watch at home. I feel fortunate that some of the churches that broadcast as part of our radio ministry have managed to find a way to continue to be on air for the Church Service program on RTHK-Radio 4.
Besides online worship, churches and Christian organizations recognized the need to serve the most vulnerable at this critical time. It was evident that there was a severe shortage of surgical face masks and hygiene supplies. People were buying out the shops, and the stores were charging outrageous prices for masks, hand sanitizers, and cleaning products. Grassroots people and the poor, in particular, were left out. Other groups, like migrant workers and asylum seekers, could not afford or find these essential goods. Fortunately, charities banded together to collect supplies for the needy and distributed them through church networks and organizations like Hong Kong Christian Service and Hong Kong Church Network for the Poor.
As the coronavirus epidemic has spread around the world, we are mindful of the need to give spiritual and emotional support as well as material aid. Even though churches have been challenged with the loss of donations during service closure, they recognize that many have been even more severely impacted. The hospitality and tourism sectors in Hong Kong were already struggling with the loss of business during the 2019 protests. Now they are faced with more cancellations, layoffs, and closures. Hong Kong’s overall economy and morale will need quite some time to recover.
In the meantime, we continue to pray for all those affected, including patients, their families, frontline medical workers, and vulnerable groups in the community like cleaning staff, the elderly, and those for whom vital services are closed due to the virus. We also pray for governments and those in authority to respond wisely and quickly in this critical moment. Lastly, we pray for churches and all Christians to be mighty witnesses for the love and mercy of God through their words and deeds, both private and public.
Thank you, wherever you are, for all you are doing to care for yourselves and those around you. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be upon a suffering world, and may we be God’s channel of blessing for divine protection, healing, and hope.
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Tags: Judy Chan
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