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Church and community can help to tackle Covid-19

Elaine Smith MSP

ONE of the few positives to come from the ongoing pandemic has been the community spirit shown across Scotland and a determination to help those most in need—the elderly and isolated, the sick and the poor.

The Catholic Church has played a vital role in this endeavour through the delivery of food parcels and actions such as giving elderly residents a call to see how they are keeping and help tackle loneliness and isolation.

I was pleased to lay a motion in parliament thanking local churches in Coatbridge—such as St Monica’s—for the actions they have taken in providing support to those in need. I specifically commended the efforts of Fr Michael Kane and his many assistants in St Augustine’s Parish, not only for the excellent Let’s Stay Connected project, but for his unstinting spiritual support for parishioners by offering additional masses and extra services.

We have all had to adapt and change the way we are working as Missio Scotland has shown with the #WeAreStillHere programme and their continued invaluable work with our primary schools; albeit without physical visits.

Prayer and worship

Of course, the biggest way in which the Catholic Church has been able to help in Scotland was through communal prayer. Although we have had to attend Mass in lower numbers and socially distanced, having Mass available on a daily or weekly basis brought some much-needed structure and comfort to the lives of parishioners and members of our community. This was particularly important for those who do not have access to online facilities.

It, therefore, came as a great disappointment that the most recent restrictions prohibit the opening of places of worship entirely. Churches did all they could to ensure parishioners were safe when attending mass and private prayer, and as such, I have questioned the Scottish Government on their basis for making such decisions, why this action was considered to be necessary and what science and evidence it was based on. It differed to that of the UK Government’s decision for England where churches have remained open for communal worship. I have written directly to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on this issue and asked that churches are given priority when restrictions begin to ease.

Our brothers and sisters worldwide

However, we must not be disheartened. The time will come when places of worship will reopen, and we can once again come together in faith, not just here, but across the globe in all the areas that benefit from the Pontifical Mission Societies. But until then, we cannot ignore the social and economic injustices that exist in our society and are continuing to grow.

The rollout of vaccinations across the UK is a hugely positive step forward, and although we have no idea when this current lockdown will end, the vaccines give us hope and a route out of the pandemic. Despite this, as we move forward against the virus, we do not seem to be taking everyone else with us.

On a recent meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Malawi, I was horrified to hear that large pharmaceutical companies are charging developing world countries up to three times the amount the vaccine costs western countries. These are vaccines that have been produced using taxpayers money! Many of these countries are of course the countries supported by Missio who need assistance, not further hardship.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation argues that ‘the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure’, commenting: “It is not fair for younger, healthy people in richer nations to get injections before vulnerable people in poorer states."

Coronavirus does not discriminate, therefore our response to it should not discriminate either. Our response should be clear with the priority for all rich nations being to ensure that the elderly and vulnerable across all continents should receive the vaccine first, even at the expense of younger and healthier individuals in their own states. This would ensure that those who are likely to suffer the most from the virus are protected as quickly as possible.

It would paint a telling and devastating picture if much of the developing world was slowly rolling out vaccines for the next two or three years while we get back to our normal lives before the end of the year.

Meeting moral challenge

It is therefore crucial that we all come together to meet the aim of Dr Tedros of having vaccinations rolled out in large numbers across nations by World Health Day, which is April 7. This has to be a team effort and I believe the Catholic Church has a huge role to play in the fight against what could be a ‘catastrophic moral failure.'

This means pushing for governments to see past their disagreements with, or views of, other nations and offer aid and relief to the people who need it most; such as in Yemen where Donald Trump recently made it near impossible to deliver aid. I hope this decision is quickly reversed by President Joseph Biden to end the potentially devastating impact.

I was pleased to sign a Cross-Party open letter at the end of last year to the UK Government calling on them to support the proposal at the TRIPS Council of the WTO to waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment.

The vaccine brings us all a sense of hope in Britain, and rightly so. But we must remember that foreign aid is hugely important to ensure that the world moves forward and not just the rich parts of it. I wish everyone well as we continue to fight this virus and please take care until the happy day when we can live without restrictions once again.

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