CAFOD and coronavirus: your questions answered

19 March 2020

Handwashing during the 2019 Ebola outbreak

CAFOD is part of one of the largest aid networks in the world, with substantial knowledge and expertise in WASH – water, hygiene and sanitation – and disease control.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has now spread to every continent except Antarctica, with confirmed cases in several African and Asian countries where CAFOD works.

CAFOD’s Director Christine Allen said:

"We are extremely concerned about the impact the coronavirus could have in developing countries with fragile health systems, because it will be the vulnerable and marginalised in communities who will pay the highest price.

"If this virus hits refugee camps, like the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh’s Cox's Bazar or camps for Syrian refugees inside and outside of the country, it could be catastrophic for the millions of people already struggling to access healthcare.

"We know from our experiences of fighting Ebola in West Africa that shattering myths by delivering clear and accurate information via trusted faith and traditional leaders, and promoting good hygiene practices, are both key to keeping people safe. We hold all peoples affected by this virus in our prayers, especially those in countries with weaker healthcare systems."

Pray for all those affected by coronavirus

How is coronavirus affecting CAFOD’s work around the world?

Our programmes around the world are run, managed and staffed by national staff. Every context will be different, but at this point we need to put the safety of all our staff, and the local aid teams on the ground, first.

The spread of COVID-19 in countries with poor health systems will be devastating for communities and will without a doubt undo some of the great work our local experts have achieved in supporting communities to thrive.

What experience does CAFOD have in responding to deadly viruses?

Our country teams and aid experts have experience of fighting fast-moving viruses, such as Ebola. We worked with local aid experts in fighting the Ebola virus in West Africa – Sierra Leone and Liberia, and more recently fighting Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are rooted in their communities - a trusted presence - with exceptional reach and impact, ensuring that marginalised and vulnerable people in communities receive the life-saving hygiene information they need.

We’ve learnt from our Ebola experiences that the role of faith, traditional and community leaders is pivotal in reinforcing hygiene messages, and making sure that people understand what to do if they feel unwell. We know that stigma for survivors can be a big challenge, when they return to home, and these leaders in communities are an important part of addressing stigma and rebuilding social cohesion. 

Will CAFOD be able to respond to an outbreak of the coronavirus in a country where it works?

We are part of a global Church network, Caritas Internationalis, which has a local presence in 165 countries. Together, we make up one of the largest aid networks in the world, with substantial knowledge and expertise in WASH – water, hygiene and sanitation – and disease control, in which CAFOD holds technical expertise and helps to coordinate Church responses.  

Any rapid spread of a virus, including COVID-19, risks disrupting our ongoing humanitarian and longer-term development work. However, we are already linking up with our country programme teams who are working on contingency and monitoring plans, to understand how best we can support communities. 

What guidelines have CAFOD issued to staff in the UK and overseas in response to COVID-19?

The security and safety of all staff, volunteers and partners both here in the UK and overseas is paramount. We are closely monitoring the situation with COVID-19 and have ensured that there is a dedicated electronic portal where staff can find documents relating to the latest updates on health protocols.

We are asking all our staff to follow hygiene and prevention measures, which includes travel restrictions, given the increased incidence of flight changes, border restrictions, and the risk of travellers being quarantined after travel to certain regions and countries. All staff both here in the UK and overseas have been asked to review travel arrangements and postpone or delay any international travel.

Is CAFOD still asking its supporters and volunteers to go out and fundraise during Lent?

As the COVID-19 virus spreads we are making sure that supporters and volunteers are aware of the advice issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales (CBCEW) as well as Public Health England.

Advice for CAFOD volunteers

We understand that restrictions on movement, and the numbers of people able to gather in one place, will mean that fundraising activities which require face to face contact will not take place. We are planning different ways of keeping in touch with volunteers by phone and online.

We are aware our dedicated supporters are already thinking of how they share fundraising with communities. We are humbled by the fact that the poorest and most disadvantaged are not forgotten during such a concerning time for us all.

Lent in your parish

Please bear with us if it takes longer than usual to acknowledge or thank you for your gifts by post while our UK head office is closed. You can still contact us and donate online.

Donate to our Lent Appeal

More ways to give

What is CAFOD’s view on the announcement of churches suspending masses for the rest of Lent and for Easter?

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has issued advice to all parishes titled The Liturgy, Parish Events and Coronavirus: Steps to take. This advice has been informed by public health officials working with the bishops’ healthcare reference group.

With masses across the country being cancelled, there is now a large demand for online worship. We hope our new weekly Children’s Liturgy Live sessions will inspire families across the UK after the first online event on Sunday 22 March saw over 500 families sign up.

How did the coronavirus outbreak start?

The outbreak of the novel Coronavirus COVID-19 started in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) was made aware of an unusual pneumonia-like virus on New Year’s Eve 2019. A week later, the WHO was able to confirm that the virus was a new one belonging to the coronavirus family. It is now officially called COVID-19. On 11 March 2020, the WHO declared the virus to be a pandemic as it has spread globally. This marks the first time that a pandemic has been influenced by a coronavirus.

What is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses belong to a group of viruses, which cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe respiratory conditions. COVID-19 has been classed as a new strain of the coronavirus which hasn’t been found in human beings before. It is still unknown where the main source of the virus has come from, but scientists studying virology believe that it may have made the jump from animals to humans.

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