By Arnold Neliba and Agencies
The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19, a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus a pandemic. The declaration was made March 11, barely two months since the outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern.
“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” WHO Director, General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on March 11.
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death,” he said.
He said describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by the virus. “It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time,” he said calling on countries around the globe to take urgent and aggressive action.
114 countries have reported corona virus cases. Italy and China have been hit hard by COVID-19. This has forced countries to put measures in place to help control it’s spread.
Rome, based in Italy in the epicenter of the pandemic and churches around the world have been forced to put measures to secure faithful from COVID-19.
Measures by the Church
The Vatican has instituted new measures and closures to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
In addition to urging employees to work from home if possible and providing family leave for workers with minors at home due to school closures, Pope Francis also was making some events — normally held outdoors with large crowds — closed to visitors, filmed indoors and broadcast online.
In photos of the pope’s private audience of March 9 with nearly 30 bishops from France, who were in Rome on their ad limina visit, the prelates were seated far apart from one another and from the pope, and the audience was held in a large marbled hall of the apostolic palace, rather than the smaller, carpeted papal library.
The pope’s Wednesday general audience of March 11, like that of March 8 Sunday Angelus, was to be live streamed on Vatican News and YouTube “to avoid the risk of spreading the COVID-19 (coronavirus),” especially given the crowding that occurs at the security checkpoints on entering the square, the Vatican announced March 7.
The Vatican also said that until March 15, the pope’s morning Masses at his residence would not be open to visitors but would be shown in their entirety online.
The Italian government and Vatican City State health services have asked people throughout Italy to avoid large gatherings, particularly indoors, and to keep a yard’s distance between people in public in the hopes of slowing the spread of the virus.
In Africa, Episcopal Conferences are putting up measures to help prevent a possible outbreak of the virus. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Ghana has banned handshakes and hugs during Mass. They also directed all Catholics to receive communion only on the hand.
“Ministers and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should wash their hands or use sanitizer before and after distributing Holy Communion. Avoid handshakes and embracing one another during Kiss of Peace,” the bishops said.
While expressing sympathy and solidarity with those infected and affected by the virus, the standing committee of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) during their meeting in Nairobi sked faithful to adhere to the instructions given by the civil and Ecclesiastical authorities regarding corona virus and further called for the adoption of “highest level” of preventive measures to curb the spread of the disease.
In China, the government temporarily closed all of the country’s places of worship in an effort to contain the COVID-19 respiratory coronavirus that has now killed almost 3,000 people, with more than 80,000 around the world verified with infections.
The government also banned all group religious activities, including at the YMCA. But it also praised religious groups of all faiths for raising money in an effort to help people afflicted by the disease, people trapped in quarantine zones as well as health workers and others on the front line of the fight to contain the epidemic.
The last pandemic reported in the world was the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, commonly known as swine-flu.
During that H1N1 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that somewhere between 151,700 and 575,400 people died worldwide during the first year the virus circulated. Globally, 80% of the deaths were estimated to have occurred in people younger than 65.
The World Health Organization declared the global H1N1 pandemic over in August 2010, but the H1N1 virus continues to circulate as a seasonal flu virus every year.
The most severe pandemic in recent history was the 1918 influenza pandemic, sometimes referred to as the “Spanish flu.” The pandemic was estimated to have infected about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population and killed some 50 million worldwide.