AFRICA/DR CONGO - The White Fathers: with the arrival of Covid-19, risks of epidemic and famine

Thursday, 26 March 2020 famine   epidemics   coronavirus   missionaries  

Bukavu (Agenzia Fides) - "The spread of the coronavirus is not dramatic, but we cannot underestimate it. We must put in place all possible precautions to avoid being infected and to help the population not to become infected". This is how Alberto Rovelli, a white father, a missionary in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu, describes the situation of the epidemic in the DR Congo. "At the moment - he continues - the infected seem to be still few. Authorities speak of a hundred cases in Kinshasa. Here in Bukavu there are probably no more than forty people affected by the virus and no victims. However, it is difficult to say how many other cases there are in the rest of the Country, which is very vast and in which there is no widespread healthcare network".
The President of DR Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, decreed "the state of emergency" during a television message which he held on Tuesday, announcing the isolation of the capital Kinshasa (city with about 18 million inhabitants, special observation of the coronavirus emergency in Africa). During the television message he announced the ban on anyone to reach the provinces from the capital and vice versa, with the aim of "isolating Kinshasa which turns out to be the outbreak of the pandemic".
In Bukavu, the White Fathers run a philosophy formation center with numerous students. As a precaution, they suspended lessons, but invited the students not to leave the facility. "Our house - explains Father Alberto - is a bit isolated from the city and for this reason it is perhaps a little more protected from the infection. The students would certainly risk more if they returned to their families. In order to keep them busy we have organized English courses and engage them in manual jobs. We asked them not to go to visit friends and relatives and not to receive visits here in the community".
The missionaries also reduced their outings to a minimum. They leave the community only to go and buy food. Pastoral activity has also slowed down. Father Alberto continues: "We have followed the indications of our Bishops. Sunday mass and funerals have been suspended. Scheduled marriages are still celebrated, but no more than ten people are accepted. Those not scheduled have been postponed until a later date".
Father Alberto and his confreres fear the spread of the virus, but even more the possible lack of food: "Fear is already doing serious damage. Food prices have risen significantly. A few trucks of flour still arrive from Rwanda, but when the supplies end how will families get food? I received a call from a mother who told me that she no longer has anything to eat and has no money to buy food for her children. The risk is that the virus leads to famine that could prove even more lethal than the virus itself". (EC) (Agenzia Fides, 26/3/2020)