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The Coronavirus Diaries: Cracks Have Been Exposed

Wednesday February 10 2021

The Rev Glynis Williams of the Presbyterian Church in Canada says the pandemic has revealed inequalities, both at home and abroad

Welcome, bienvenue, from The Presbyterian Church in Canada!

Canada is a vast country in the northern part of North America. We have ten provinces and three territories extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean. It is the world's second-largest country, with a population of only 38 million spread across 10 million square kilometers. We are a diverse population including First Nations and Inuit indigenous peoples, and we have a history of welcoming newcomers.

The Covid-19 virus first appeared in Canada in January 2020, more than a year ago. There were periods with greater and lesser restrictions on movement and limiting contact to people in one’s family or household. Canada has a national health care system for all citizens and permanent residents, of which we are proud. Each province and territory has a chief medical officer, and the majority of those are women who were unknown prior to the pandemic, but have become household names. They have provided us with calm and compassionate reassurance as the pandemic continued to take many lives.

As the pandemic continues, it has revealed the failings that have been hidden behind our impression of compassion and concern. Our elderly folk in long term care homes and retirement facilities have been the greatest casualties. Overworked caregivers, sometimes working in multiple places with low wages, have contributed to the many deaths. The cracks in our health care system[GW1]  have been exposed, which hopefully will lead to permanent improvements. We have been humbled by the surprising acts of courage among caregivers, nurses and physicians working long hours and witnessing too many deaths.

The observations of one of the Presbyterian mission staff who had to return to Canada due to the pandemic, having lived almost three years in Malawi, caught my attention. Vivian Bertrand was appointed to work with the relief and development organisation called Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD).

In Canada Vivian noted that Canadians hoarded not only toilet paper but vaccines as well. Canada tops the chart of global vaccine hoarders with enough to vaccinate each Canadian five times. COVAX was set up to ensure fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and Canada signed on. We are the third largest donors. However, we have undermined the efficacy of COVAX by signing purchasing agreements for more vaccines per capita than any other country. We did this to ensure access to whichever vaccines were ready first. The logic is understandable, and Canadians will benefit from this hoarding. But it doesn’t make it right. As of December 2020, wealthy nations representing only 14% of the world’s population had bought up 53% of the most promising vaccines. Meanwhile, the poorest nations may have a long wait for vaccines to reach them.

Our response to Covid-19 highlights the importance of global engagement with mission partners around the world. Having lived and worked alongside Malawian colleagues and friends influenced Vivian’s thinking. Recognising how easily we focus on our country or our fears when we are faced with trials, it is easy to be protective of our resources and families while forgetting the struggles of those living in other parts of the world. Maybe Covid-19 will change us for the better—individually and as the church.

Hopefully, when restrictions are lifted, we will be less fearful. Let us hope that we will hug neighbours and friends and family more often. Maybe we will be more grateful for what we have, fear economic instability less and tithe more intentionally. As a church, Vivian hopes that, once vaccines are available, we will continue to live and serve alongside our sisters and brothers around the world. The relationships we form will help us, as the church and as individuals, to be more compassionate and responsive to those who face death or hunger every day.

The Coronavirus Diaries: reflections from Church of Scotland partners around the world

Kenya: Leave No Child Behind
USA: Homes of Prayer
Mozambique: Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
A Spaniard in Scotland: The Power of Movement
South Sudan: Being Positive
A Nigerian in Scotland: God is in Charge
Trinidad and Tobago: New Frontiers
Czech Republic: A Challenge for Everybody
Switzerland: An Outpouring of Solidarity and Creativity
The West Bank: A Landscape of Broken Dreams
Nepal: So Many Premature Goodbyes
Malawi: We Must Hold Each Other Close
Nigeria: A Fresh Spiritual Connectedness
Egypt: 'This Is A Time To Witness God'
Guyana: The Strength of our Connectedness
South Korea: A Harsh Reality
Zimbabwe: Convenience or a Wake-up Call?
Sri Lanka: Service is the Highest Form of Worship
USA: Testing Positive
Portugal: The Mission of the Church Has Not Changed
World Council of Churches: A New Dawn is Upon us
Hungary: Physically Distant but Close in Spirit
A German in Scotland: Something New Has Already Begun
Myanmar: We Will Overcome this Hardship
Ghana: This Too Shall Pass
Brazil: The Least We Can Do
Kenya: Caring for One Another in Christ
An Indian in Germany: A Time of Enrichment
Argentina: Time in Between
Malawi: 'My identity in Christ remains unchanged'
Jerusalem: Being Rather than Doing
Malawi: No Lockdown and an Election
Zambia: 'I will never leave you... or forsake you'
Czech Republic: The Covid Cover-up
Zambia: 'All Life is Sacred'
Israel/Palestine: 'The Air is Clear'
Nepal: 'Please Pray for Us'
Malawi: Tough Dilemmas
Italy: 'Together, We Will Get Through It'