HONG KONG (SE): The Church plays an important part in the fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic, said Albert Lee, a physician and director of the Centre for Health Education and Health Promotion as well as the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He said the Church could help mobilise resources to help the needy as well as care for the spiritual people’s needs.
Lee was part of the team that provided professional advice to the Church leadership in its decision to suspend Masses and later made suggestions about the measures needed for Mass resumption.
He is an educational innovator and research leader in family medicine, health promotion and disease prevention in Asia. He also helped in issuing guidelines to schools on the resumption of classes resumption so that teachers greater awareness of hygiene needs.
Lee told the Kung Kao Po that while the Church has had basic guidelines to cope with a virus outbreak following the SARS outbreak (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) 17 years ago, and later the human swine influenza, it had to make a tough decision to suspend Masses during this pandemic and later to resume Masses while observing social distancing and, at the same time, catering to the needs of the faithful.
The physician noted that the risk awareness of Hong Kong people was higher than in the time of SARS as they were quicker to implement infection mitigation skills this time. At present, more efforts are needed to help people to resume their normal lives, like taking comprehensive measures at schools for virus prevention.
Lee also believes the Church plays a role in allocating resources to ensure the needy are supported during the pandemic. He said there are many people with resources, money and time who do not know how to help, while the Church can gather such resources and manpower to help people after assessing their needs.
“For example, old people living alone may not be able to buy facemasks, the Church can help in this aspect,” he said. He also believes non-government organisations have also organised activities to share protective gear, ensuring even distribution of resources and preventing panic buying.
While providing clinical services at the hospital, Lee observed that many patients suffered from depression due to the ban on hospital visitation. One patient told him in May that he worried that he would be left alone in hospital after an operation, he comforted him by saying that he could talk to his family by video-conferencing.
Lee said that although volunteers or communities cannot visit hospitals or old people’s homes, they can still help their families to set up video-conferencing facilities.
He said people’s spiritual needs are often ignored in communities, hospitals, care centres and families. While people are often stuck at home during the pandemic, with some being unemployed, he believes it is good for the Church to care for their spiritual and emotional health through online activities.
He said schools also played a major part in fighting the pandemic as they are the ones who are training the future fighters against virus and teaching them lessons to be learnt from the pandemic.
Lee was chairperson of the Guild of St. Luke, St. Cosmas and St. Damian Hong Kong in 2003 during the SARS outbreak. He recalled that the most difficult task then was advising whether or not to suspend Masses. In the end, the diocese decided to allow Masses go on with preventive measures. “It was a memorable year as while we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the guild, we also celebrated the end of the SARS outbreak,” he recounted.
While public Masses have resumed, Lee advised people not to forget the importance of their health and that of others and to join online Masses if they are sick.