AROUND the world, lockdown measures against the coronavirus are under pressure as millions face the stark choice of going out in search of work and food or letting their families starve — a situation that is breeding growing civil unrest.
From Nigeria to Argentina, Afghanistan to South Africa, millions fear hunger more than infection. Rioting and looting owing to severe shortages have taken place in South Africa; and organised protests have been growing in the United States, where they have won the backing of President Trump, even though he had originally announced the social-distancing measures.
The World Food Programme reported this week that millions of people were at risk of starvation. Its executive director, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council that the world was facing a famine of “biblical proportions”.
Before the virus spread, 135 million people were already facing crisis levels of hunger; an additional 130 million have now been placed on the edge of starvation, he said. The spread of the virus had caused “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II”, and the world was facing not only “a global health pandemic, but also a global humanitarian catastrophe”, he warned.
“If we don’t prepare and act now, we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.”
PAFr Daniel O’Mullane hears confessions in a new booth outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel RC Church, New Jersey, last Friday
Protests against the lockdown have been organised in the US by gun-lobby and right-wing groups against the perceived attack on their freedoms. Hand-painted signs held up during protests included some that called for churches to be reopened.
Protests were held in many states, including Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, California, and Minnesota. In some cities, health-care workers blocked protests and asked people to go home.
The Rector of St Thomas’s, Fifth Avenue, in New York, Canon Carl Turner, said that there had not been protests yet in New York City, one of the worst-affected parts of the US, where churches continue to be locked and the shutdown is to continue until 15 May. Although it is hoped that New York State has now passed its peak infection rate, the situation was still tense because of continued infections and deaths, Canon Turner said.
The US Episcopal Church said that planning was under way in many states for a gradual reopening, although the timetable would be different in each state. The Bishop of Atlanta, the Rt Revd Robert Wright, has said that he will meet clergy before deciding whether and when the 117 churches in his diocese can reopen.
Brian Kemp, the Governor of Georgia, the state in which the diocese lies, said that services were among gatherings that might resume on Monday.
But Bishop Wright said: “We are in a perilous time in regard to our battle to defeat the coronavirus pandemic, and any action that we take will be predicated on protecting the health and safety of our diocesan family. Our love for each other is our prime directive.”
The Bishop of Washington, the Rt Revd Mariann Budde, said that churches would remain closed until the stay-at-home order was relaxed. Some of the biggest protests against the lockdown have taken place in Washington, DC. Bishop Budde said that the Church supported the lockdown, and wanted “to do our part to help slow the spread of the coronavirus”.
Many Protestant churches have remained open throughout, in defiance of social-distancing guidelines. One organisation, describing itself as the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, was this week ordered by a judge to stop selling what it described as a “miracle solution” for Covid-19. The product contains chlorine dioxide, a chemical compound that, the Food and Drug Administration warned, would turn into a dangerous bleach when mixed with other things and would make those who consumed it seriously ill.
Prosecutors alleged that, although the directors of the organisation styled themselves as archbishop and bishops, it was not a Church, but a profit-making company.