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Here and Looking ahead amidst COVID-19

Victorian Government Briefing

NCCA President, Bishop Philip Huggins shares his summary and reflections on the recent briefing he attended as part of the Multifaith Advisory Group to the Victorian Premier and his Department. The briefing was given from the Public Incident Management Team through the Occupational Physician, Dr. John Parkes.

Here is a summary of key points, with some reflections:

  • To prevent the spread of the virus we have to try to keep people separate. Hence the various restrictions that are in place.
  • A noticed risk is “innocent socialisation”. People may stay separate inside a building and be careful not to share facilities, but some relax that discipline when they are outside. Whilst this is understandable in some circumstances, say amongst mourners after a funeral or amongst energetic youngsters, the consequences are the same.
  • We can’t see too far ahead. We do not know if elimination is possible. We do not know how close to this we can get. We do not know, yet, when restrictions can be safely eased, including both national and international border restrictions. What we do know is that, this side of a universal vaccine, 'safe distancing', masks and team work together will remain crucial.
  • Dr Parkes, a person of faith, therefore asked us to pray for the people in the Department of Health (who need wisdom for these uncharted waters). He asked us to pray that our community will work graciously, selflessly and cooperatively together (therefore, with forbearance and a readiness to forgive). He especially asked us to pray for our beloved, elderly people. He emphasised their vulnerability in public spaces if people are not 'safe distancing' but yet their need for company and warmth.
  • These prayer requests capture our “Here and Looking Ahead”. On the one hand, the necessity to keep safe distancing is vivid. The WHO reports this week the highest number of daily new cases of COVID-19 infection. In many places the virus is rampant. In the best of places it is barely contained. In “the world's richest country",  because of abysmal national leadership, the deaths are over 170,000 and climbing, whilst even the safety precaution of a mask is made into an ideological dispute. On the other hand, we are trying to hold together a way of life that has been nurtured over many generations. Hence, to prevent economic and social disintegration and to keep giving people a sense of hopeful belonging, governments as well as agencies and organisations are taking on debt or utilising reserves. The premise being that “things will return to normal, more or less", before this strategy becomes unsustainable.
  • "Here and looking ahead", our challenge is holding together the best advice of our Public Health experts, with our way of life as it is embodied in our various places of belonging. As Dr Parkes asked us to pray, this will be easier if we all practice "the golden rule" and work together in a kindly, forbearing and ennobling manner. I have heard it said that this is Australia’s moment to be a “continent of compassion”. That is a destiny worth embracing both in public policy and in a personal discipline to never, under any circumstances, do to others what we would not want done to ourselves.
  • Our Multifaith Advisory Group meeting with Dr Parkes was in this spirit and therefore of profound encouragement at this complex time.

BISHOP PHILIP HUGGINS

President, NCCA

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