As the death toll from the coronavirus reaches at least 1,383, according to numbers released by the Chinese Communist Party, Christians on the mainland are risking their lives to provide aid to families in cities that have been deemed high risk for the disease.
Mark Hogsed, World Help’s vice president of international programs, told The Christian Post that the Christian nongovernmental organization is partnering with local pastors to distribute emergency relief in the provinces surrounding Wuhan, where the infection now known as COVID-19 is thought to have originated last December.
“For over 20 years, we’d been working with a network of local Chinese pastors and church planters doing Bible distribution, church planting, and evangelizing,” he said. “So we heard this network is willing to distribute protective masks as well as food to the people they’re ministering to. All they needed were the resources. We are actively on the ground right now, providing masks and food to as many people as they can to help prevent the virus.”
With an additional 5,000 reported Friday, the number of coronavirus cases in mainland China has now surged past 63,000.
Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, told Reuters the new figures give no indication the outbreak is nearing a peak.
"Based on the current trend in confirmed cases, this appears to be a clear indication that while the Chinese authorities are doing their best to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the fairly drastic measures they have implemented to date would appear to have been too little, too late," he said.
While the pastors and other aid workers partnering with World Help are “taking preventive measures,” they are risking their lives to provide aid to those in need, Hogsed told CP.
“Our partners are being as safe as possible, they’re taking every precaution they can, but they feel this is a calling and a time to step up,” he said. “One of the effects of the virus is people are staying inside. They’re not going outside if they don’t have to, so these pastors are choosing to go out into their communities out of love for the people and as a practical way to spread the Gospel."
“We feel strongly that we can be an example of a very practical Gospel,” he added. “This is one way that Christians on the ground can practically help those who need it, even in the face of danger.”
In Hubei province numerous areas are under quarantine. Last week, the government ordered officials in Wuhan to “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” as part of a “wartime” campaign to contain the outbreak, reports The New York Times.
On Friday, Chinese state-run television announced that everyone returning to Beijing would be required to isolate themselves for 14 days. Anyone who does not comply “shall be held accountable according to law,” according to a text of the order released by state television.
Because of this, Hogsed told CP that World Help is focused on the provinces surrounding Hubei, adding, “There’s so much lockdown right now and the threat of a spread is so real that we are primarily focusing on the outskirts of Hubei, which is also a high-risk area.”
The coronavirus is now a global concern: At least 25 countries have confirmed cases and three deaths have been recorded outside mainland China — one in Hong Kong, one in the Philippines, and one in Japan.
The World Health Organization has warned the virus poses a "grave threat" to the world. Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the virus could have "more powerful consequences than any terrorist action.”
As the number of novel coronavirus cases rises, Christians are on the frontlines sharing the Gospel and practical aid to those in need, Hogsed said. God, he stressed, is present even in the darkest of times.
“It is an awful, awful tragedy and it’s hard to find any good that would come of this,” he said. “But hopefully, those that are being ministered to in a practical way will see that this is what Jesus has commanded us to do, to help those in need of help. Hopefully, that will in turn into the spread of the Gospel.”
The Gospel has been “rapidly spreading” throughout China throughout the last several decades despite severe persecution, Hogsed declared, adding that God continues to “bless the efforts of those who are so dedicated to reaching China for Christ, even at risk to themselves.”
He encouraged Christians to pray for those affected by the coronavirus, stressing, “We need to pray for those who have been affected and for those who have lost loved ones to it.”
“They’re saying a vaccine is months away, so pray for a quick vaccination for this deadly disease,” he said.
He also asked believers to donate to World Help, revealing that just $20 can provide one person a week’s worth of food and a protective mask to help stop the spread of the illness.
“When we’re providing practical, tangible help like this, it’s with the goal that physical aid will translate into spreading the Gospel and everyone is helped will come to know Jesus,” he said.
Visit World Help to find out more information or to donate.