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Anglican doctor helping to lead international fight against Covid-19 as churches take precautions

Posted on: March 17, 2020 4:45 PM
Men in protective masks transport a coffin of a person who died from coronavirus disease (COVID-19), into a cemetery in Bergamo, Italy on Monday (16 March) Flavio Lo Scalzo / Reuters
Photo Credit: Flavio Lo Scalzo / Reuters

A former missionary who previously worked as a senior advisor at the World Health Organisation has been called back into service following the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Ian Smith previously served as Executive Director of the Office of the Director- General and Advisor to the two previous Director-Generals, of the WHO, Dr Margaret Chan and Dr Lee Jong-wook; and is now serving as a senior advisor to the current Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Dr Smith lives with his wife Sally in the Yorkshire Dales’ village of Arncliffe, where they worship in the parish of Upper Wharfedale and Littondale. Dr Smith is a bell ringer and his wife Sally is a sides person. 

Before moving to Geneva in 1999, the couple worked in Nepal for 16 years as medical missionaries with the Baptist Missionary Society and the United Mission to Nepal. When they returned to Europe, they worshipped at the Crossroads Church, an independent evangelical church in Ferney, close to the French-Swiss border. When they returned to the UK, Sally Smith took up a position as Advisor on Faith and Religion for UNAIDS.

Speaking to the Anglican Communion News Service, Ian Smith stressed that it was important for people not to panic about the virus, which was reclassified by the WHO has a pandemic last week. “Many people are deeply alarmed by the rapid spread of COVID-19”, he said. “The outbreak of disease has caused a pandemic of fear and panic. But we must not spread fear, stigma and misinformation.

Ian Smith

"We must stop, contain, control, delay and reduce the impact of this virus at every opportunity. Every person has the capacity to contribute, to protect themselves, to protect others, whether in the home, the community, the healthcare system, the workplace or the transport system.”

COVID-19 is a new virus that first emerged in China in January. Since then, it has spread to over 100 countries around the world. “More than 125,000 people have been infected, and nearly 5,000 people have sadly died”, Dr Smith said. “The virus causes fever, cough and breathlessness, and spreads in droplets produced by someone with the disease when they cough or sneeze. Those droplets land on surfaces and the virus can then get picked up when someone touches the surface and transfers the virus to their mouth and face on their hands.

“Fortunately, most people infected with COVID-19 – about 80 per cent – have a relatively mild disease, but some people get a more severe form and need to be hospitalised. Those at greatest risk of serious illness or even death, are the elderly and those with other illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.”

He said that people can protect themselves and others by following a series of simple measures: “keeping a one metre distance from other people; practicing ‘no contact’ greetings, such as a bow or a nod rather than hugging or shaking hands; washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitiser; avoiding touching your face, nose and mouth; and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.”

Anglican provinces have issued guidance for their churches which takes into account the international guidance and the local situation in their countries and regions.

In a blog for the Anglican Communion News Service this week, the Primate of Hong Kong, Archbishop Paul Kwong, explained that Churches in his province have not held public worship services in mid February.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, have advised Church of England clergy to avoid physical contact, such as the shaking of hands during the sharing of the peace, and have said that the Eucharist should be distributed in one kind only, to avoid the sharing of a common cup; bringing the C of E into line with the other three Anglican Churches within the UK and Ireland.

The Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, said that diocesan bishops “have my support . . . if, in light of the public health situation in their diocese, they decide – for a designated period of time – to suspend the administration of the common cup to the congregation in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and/or to cancel in-person gatherings for public worship.”

The Bishop of Washington, Mariann Budde, has instructed churches in her diocese – including the Washington National Cathedral – to suspend services for two weeks. “As your bishop, my highest priority is the health, safety and well-being of our people, with particular concern for the most vulnerable”, Bishop Mariann said. “It is also our collective responsibility as Christians to be good neighbours, and to do our part to protect the social fabric upon which many lives depend.”

The Palestinian Authority has closed all schools in its area, affecting the education ministry of the Diocese of Jerusalem. St George’s School in Jerusalem is under Israeli control but has also had to close because many of its teachers come from Palestinian areas and face travel restrictions imposed by both the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel. Israeli restrictions on international visitors means that St George’s Guesthouse is facing cancellations; and St George's College has cancelled courses until at least Easter. The Princess Basma Centre for children with disabilities has also partially closed.

“It is my prayer that with the coming of Easter next month, in view of the current crisis, our commemoration of Christ's resurrection will have an even greater meaning, thanks to the Grace of God and to your continuing prayers and support”, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, said in a letter to international supporters.

Staff at the Anglican Communion Office are taking steps to combat the spread of the virus, including limiting international travel and greater use of technology for virtual meetings.