The World Health Organization (WHO) declared today that the China coronavirus is now a global health emergency.
This rare designation helps the international agency mobilize financial and political support to contain the outbreak. The coronavirus has now killed at least 171 people in China and has spread to at least eighteen other countries.
The WHO defines a global health emergency as an “extraordinary event” that is “serious, unusual or unexpected.” The WHO executive-director noted that “the numbers outside China are relatively small” but added that “they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak.”
Two criteria are used to determine whether or not to declare a global health emergency: (1) whether the disease spreads locally when it arrives in new parts of the world, and (2) whether it has already interfered or will likely interfere with trade and travel.
The Wuhan virus now meets both criteria.
Declaring an emergency allows the WHO to make recommendations on travel or trade bans. It also helps to mobilize public health resources and galvanize public and political action.
In related news, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed today the first case of person-to-person transmission in the United States. A woman was diagnosed after returning to Chicago from Wuhan, China. Now her husband, who did not travel to China, has been diagnosed as well.
The 2003 SARS outbreak lasted for five or six months. Health officials have stated that no one knows how long the China virus health emergency will continue.
What can we do about the Wuhan virus?
Let’s consider two biblical responses.
One: God calls and uses health care professionals just as he calls clergy and missionaries.
Physicians and medical researchers are on the front lines of this fight. Work is underway now to develop vaccines and better treatments for patients. Nurses and doctors risk themselves to treat us.
If you or a loved one had the Wuhan virus, you would be especially grateful for those treating you.
Just as Luke the physician was vital to Paul’s ministry (Colossians 4:14), so health care professionals are vital to all of us. Please pray for them and for other officials as they respond to this crisis.
Two: We are responsible for our physical and spiritual health.
Officials advise us to take preventive measures to avoid contracting the Wuhan virus such as hand washing, avoiding close contact with those with cold symptoms, and avoiding live animals if traveling in China. If we feel sick, we should isolate ourselves from others and go to a doctor immediately. We must do everything we can not to contract this virus and not to spread it if we do.
The same is true spiritually. Scripture repeatedly calls us to “flee” temptation and immorality (cf. 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Corinthians 6:18) James 4:7 teaches us to “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The first action empowers us to perform the second, which leads to the third.
Let’s pray today for the Great Physician to help and heal those who are ill and to use this global health emergency to show us our need of his power and grace. Whether we contract the Wuhan virus or not, we are all mortal. Unless Jesus returns first, we will all die one day. And we will all stand before our Lord in judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
A. W. Tozer was right: “We must meet the uncertainties of this world with the certainty of the world to come.”
Are you ready for that world today?