• Joanne Lee Wong

THE GOOD SAMARITAN RESPONSE TO THE CORONAVIRUS

Updated: Feb 8

Just mid-week, a friend was relaying to me how her primary school son’s friend had burped in class and drawn immediate consternation from all his classmates paranoid about the 2019-nCoV or Coronavirus.


We’d laughed because it just seemed so absurd.


Well, just three days later, no one is laughing now.


Yesterday, Singapore raised its risk assessment to DORSCON Orange after a case of community transmission unrelated to China travel, driving hoardes of people to empty supermarket shelves in a doomsday-like scenario. [NB. DORSCON = Disease Outbreak Response System Condition]

I was shocked. Singapore had experienced DORSCON Orange before - when the H1N1 swine flu pandemic broke out in 2009. Had the coding system been around in 2003 during the SARS outbreak, it probably would have been classified Orange too. So why the widespread panic, I wondered? It did not happen during the last Orange alert 11 years ago. If anything, the government has spent the last 17 years since SARS ensuring we are far better prepared to deal with the problem this time round.


Still, panic is panic - and who can blame people gripped in the throes of paranoia and irrational fear? It certainly did not help when the World Health Organization also warned yesterday that the world is running out of masks and personal protection equipment. Of course people’s survival instincts were going to kick in - even if preparing for the zombie apocalypse is rather over the top. This is precisely why I’m terrified of living in the End Times, but that is a story for another day.

Back in the days of the SARS outbreak, I had been very clinical in my observations. At the time, I was a business news anchor on Channel NewsAsia and my preoccupations had been: how much was being spent on the crisis; how much business productivity was affected; how much it was costing the Singapore economy; and how long it would take for our very international travel hub to recover.

This time, things are hitting a lot closer to home. My husband works for the Methodist Welfare Services and is exposed daily to nursing homes filled with elderly residents with underlying health issues, visiting family members, and foreign staff workers. My older brother has returned to hospital environments, also working in the main with the elderly. And my younger sister, now a senior executive, has started a new job which requires her to travel practically every other week. Suddenly, the outbreak is no longer just the news; it’s a very real threat to my loved ones.

I even know someone, my dance coach’s ballroom partner, who is stuck in Hubei. She had gone to visit her parents prior to Chinese New Year and could not return with her Singaporean husband and baby boy because she holds a Hubei-issued China passport. This was before Singapore latterly banned all travellers from, or transiting through, China.


The 2019-nCoV being much closer to my heart this time round, I have found myself much more sensitive to the ugliness, selfishness, racism, and discrimination going on both online and in the real world. While I understand survivalist tendencies, our human need to apportion blame and vilify others offends me no end.


I thus found myself embroiled in online exchanges trying to debunk the myth that the Coronavirus started because the barbaric Chinese eat bats, that the Chinese are the only people who eat snakes or other exotic meats, that the Chinese government is guilty of conspiracy, and that the Singapore government was irresponsible for not closing our borders to China prior to the World Health Organization declaring the outbreak an international emergency.


I should have realised that speaking rationally with irrational people is an exercise in sheer futility. So my thoughts turned to how we, as Christians, should respond to the fear and paranoia all around us.


Then I read a beautiful story that touched me deeply.

Face masks the government

has allocated for every

Singaporean household. (Source: Joanne Lee Wong)


While many of my fellow countrymen have been griping that the government’s gesture of providing four face masks per household was insufficient and not good enough - and I’m not even going to talk about unethical opportunists trying to sell masks at exorbitant prices to prey on the paranoid - a shining example of selflessness showed me how we should be responding.


A local man and his Vietnamese wife had given away thousands of free masks to strangers - masks which appear to have been procured in her home country of Vietnam. She could have hoarded them. She could have sold them. But she didn’t. And she wasn’t the only one. Online “mask vigilantes”, as well as some companies, were giving away masks freely - and people were hailing them as Good Samaritans.


That, surely, is how we Christians should be responding to this crisis?


Over Chinese New Year, while visiting with relatives, my brother had exploded with an almighty sneeze no thanks to his infrequent, unexpected sinus flare-ups. My aunt, herself no spring chicken, immediately offered him one of her own precious masks to prevent him from scaring fellow commuters as he headed to take a train.


This particular aunt of mine, by the way, is a staunch Buddhist and reminded me much of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) - a gentile despised by the Jews who gave succour to a Jewish victim of roadside robbery, brought him on his own donkey to a safe place, and told the innkeeper he would cover all expenses needed to nurse his natural adversary back to health. Someone who wasn’t a believer but clearly showing the sacrificial love of God through his actions.

The thing is, it was obviously easy for my aunt to offer her valued commodity to a beloved nephew, in the same way I have offered my small stock of masks to my sister when she travels for work two days hence.


But would I do it for strangers? My faith, after all, is not that strong that I’d be able to say “I am covered by the blood of the lamb and I do not need worldly protection.”


In fact, I’ll admit to asking my husband if he had access to masks at his nursing homes - then mentally whacking myself before even suggesting that he bring a couple home just in case.

But you know what? I would. I would give what little I have away to those in need because Jesus said in John 15:12-13:


“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

And, of course, we all know that He led by example and died to save us all from our iniquities.


When push comes to shove, will I give my masks away to someone who needs it more than I do? Yes, without hesitation. Not because I have great faith that I’d be somehow miraculously protected from infection, but because my life really isn’t all that important anyway. In the event that I contract the virus because I gave my masks away and succumb to sickness, my husband and family may mourn me but I know I’ll see them in Heaven eventually.


What’s more important is to show empathy and offer our help in this difficult time to those frozen with real fears about their own mortality and those seriously at risk of contracting the virus.

If you think my words empty, then be inspired by Dr Alexandre Chao - the then 37-year-old Singaporean doctor who rushed back from vacation during the SARS outbreak to help his beleaguered medical colleagues with the crisis. He ultimately gave his life to care for the victims of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - just the way Jesus asks us to do.


We might not all get to be heroes like the Good Samaritan or Dr Chao, but we can all do our own Christ-like service by showing empathy and giving what we can to those who need it.


Keep calm and carry on, my friends. Let’s respond to this the way Jesus would want us to.

Joanne Lee Wong is a writer, wife and corgi mum. She’s not a bible scholar, teacher nor church leader - just a former journalist and member of a Methodist congregation who struggles reconciling her faith with everyday experiences. All views expressed are her own.

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