UPDATE: 12 AM, FEB. 9: By Sunday morning, deaths from the coronavirus reached 811, surpassing SARS, and the number of confirmed infections rose to 37,198, most of them in Hubei province, according to Chinese officials.
As the death toll from the coronavirus reaches 724 and the number of confirmed cases rises to 34,546, Christians in China — where the illness originated — are distributing masks and sharing the love of Christ on the streets in the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
While fear and insecurity have gripped the 11 million residents of Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province, Christians there have been out on the streets giving out masks and sharing the love of Jesus and the hope the Gospel brings, according to Christian Broadcasting Network’s Asia correspondent Lucille Talusan.
“They're very courageous,” she was quoted as saying. “They give out masks and they say that they are Christians and they share the love of Christ and point to Jesus to bring hope to them and their families and the whole of China. ... This is really a break-through.”
The coronavirus originated in Wuhan about two months ago and can lead to respiratory illnesses which are fatal in some cases. While at least 724 people have died from the disease and 34,546 people have been confirmed to have the illness, the actual numbers are believed to be much higher, according to Bloomberg.
Earlier during the week, a Chinese pastor living Wuhan, identified only as “A Wuhan Pastor,” wrote to the international faith community, urging them to pray and revealing that fellow pastors from around the world had been reaching out.
“It is readily apparent that we are facing a test of our faith,” the pastor wrote. “The situation is so critical, yet [we are] trusting in the Lord’s promises, that his thoughts toward us are of peace, and not evil (Jeremiah. 29:11), and that he allows for a time of testing, not to destroy us, but to establish us.”
He continued, “Therefore, Christians are not only to suffer with the people of this city, but we have a responsibility to pray for those in this city who are fearful, and to bring to them the peace of Christ. … [When] disaster strikes us, it is but a form of God’s love. Spoken for today, Wuhan’s pestilence cannot separate us from the love of Christ; this love is in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The coronavirus, which causes a respiratory infection with mild to severe flu-like symptoms, has spread to at least two dozen countries, including the United States with about a dozen confirmed cases.
Even as hospitals in the U.S. are gearing up to handle the potential spread of coronavirus, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the U.S. is ready to spend $100 million to help China and other affected countries. The U.S. this week also helped ship to China 17.8 tons of donated supplies, Pompeo added.
What has compounded the situation in the U.S. is the ongoing flu season. “We’re talking about the possibility of a double flu pandemic,” Dr. Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said, according to The New York Times.
One reason for worry is that many of the vital medical supplies and medications are made in China, and some hospitals in the U.S. have said they are “critically low” on respirator masks, The Times reported, quoting a source from Premier Inc., which secures medical supplies and equipment on behalf of hospitals and health systems.
China also supplies much of the raw ingredients needed for penicillin, ibuprofen and even aspirin.
Last week, as the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency, persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern noted China’s Christian community’s efforts to provide hope and refuge to those suffering.
A video shared by Father Francis Liu from the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness showed that encouraging sermons were being broadcast to their communities through speakers placed on balconies. According to ICC, a Christian rode his bike to a pharmacy where people gathered and played a sermon through a portable speaker.
Another video circulated on social media showed Christians distributing face masks and Gospel pamphlets to passersby on the streets as a sermon plays in the background.
Additionally, Christians from other provinces have offered their homes to host people fleeing from Hubei province who face housing discrimination.