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Government Officials in CAR, São Tomé, Reach Out to Church Leaders over COVID-19

Measures Prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to avoid the spread of COVID-19

As many nations struggle to contain the spread of COVID-19, with reports of at least 30 African countries with confirmed cases, government officials in the Central African Republic (CAR) and São Tomé and Príncipe have reached out to Church leaders in their respective nations to help sensitize the population to avoid the spread of the virus.

In CAR, the Minister of Health, Pierre Somsse met with Pastoral agents in the Archdiocese of Bangui Tuesday, March 17 to sensitize them on COVID-19 and to outline measures put in place by the government to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

“The Catholic Church is a partner of the government and whenever there is a problem, we work together to find solutions. This was the case during the civil war and it is the case today with the coronavirus,” the Health Minister told participants at the meeting, including the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Cardinal Nzapalainga.

The Health Minister gave details about COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, how it is spread and strategies to prevent further spread of the deadly virus.

CAR confirmed its first case of COVID-19 Saturday, March 14 involving a 74-year-old Italian who had traveled from Milan in Italy.

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A resident of CAR, the patient first showed symptoms on March 8, one day after returning to the country, but health authorities were not alerted to his case until March 13.

During the March 17 meeting, CAR’s Health minister encouraged those in attendance saying, “Don't panic! Coronavirus epidemic is not yet declared in the Central African Republic, but rather only one case was imported into the country.”

“We have to distinguish between the fact that we have an imported case that has been detected and an outbreak that is occurring,” Minister Somsse said and explained, “An epidemic is when a disease usually from an imported case spreads to the indigenous population. For now, residents in Bangui have not contracted the virus.”

He called on the pastoral agents to help the government in the fight against COVID-19 by sensitizing their peers on measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

“I urge you to sensitize the population to remain calm, exhibit self-control and follow the advice given by the Ministry of Health and the measures that the government has put in place,” the Minister said.

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He added, “Simple gestures of always washing our hands, avoiding greetings, avoiding hugs and kisses, avoiding large gatherings, especially in places of enjoyment such as nightclubs and dance halls will help prevent the disease from spreading.”

For CAR citizens living abroad, the minister advised that they “postpone their trip to Bangui as soon as possible since they come from countries with cases of the disease, they could be carrying the virus.”

“We don't have the capacity here to house them and isolate them; if there are too many of them, we won't be able to isolate them. We do not have the capacity to quarantine them,” Minister Somsse said.

“We call on both the Church officials and the government agents to suspend their trips abroad until the disease is contained,” he went on to advise.

On his part, Cardinal Nzapalainga called on his compatriots to turn to the Lord in prayer for an end to COVID-19 outbreak and avoid fear.

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“To all the Christians of the Central African Republic, I want you not to be afraid.  We are called upon to trust in God. We are called upon to turn to the Lord who remains our savior,” the Archbishop of Bangui said and continued, “If the Lord is with us, who can be against us? It is with the weapons of faith that we will have to overcome physical or spiritual attacks and diseases. If we put our trust in the Lord, and turn to Him, we will never be disappointed.”

The Spiritan Prelate invited “Christians to form chains of prayer, to turn to the Lord and to pray to the Virgin Mary.”

“In the history of mankind, there have been times of a plague outbreak, there have been other diseases and believers have turned to God and we have seen that what is impossible for man is not impossible for God. The Lord acts through the things that happen and reflect our fragility and human nature,” the Cardinal said.

He added, “In the Archdiocese of Bangui, we are going to issue a communiqué in connection with the essential message carried by the government to invite everyone to remain in the perspective of the protection of life because we must seek to save life and not to pose a threat or bring death.”

Meanwhile, in Sao Tome, the Minister of Health, Edgar Neves, met Monday, March 16 with Bishop Manuel António Mendes dos Santos of the Diocese of São Tomé and Príncipe, to seek the collaboration of the Catholic Church in the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.

Both parties discussed issues related to preventive measures with Bishop Manuel António expressing the will of the Catholic Church to support the government.

“This virus does not choose the people and therefore it is a battle we all must fight. We are ready to support the government in sensitizing our people about this disease,” Bishop António said.

He added, “Right now I think we have to forget our political backgrounds, our rivalries and join hands together and fight this epidemic that has brought fear and panic to our people.”

The President of São Tomé and Príncipe, Evaristo Carvalho, decreed on Tuesday, March 17 a state of national emergency to prevent the spread of Covid-19, according to reports. The Prime Minister, Jorge Bom Jesus, also announced a ban on entry into the country of all foreign citizens.