I did think that this first communication after my Long Service Leave would be taken up with sharing some of the refreshment I received while away.
That sadly will have to wait, for the more pressing need is to engage with the increasing transmission of the new BA4/BA5 omicron variants and the risk it poses to individuals and the health system. On Tuesday 19th the chief health officer included the following in his update:
The Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which are now dominant across Australia, are expected to continue to cause increases in new cases, reinfections and hospital admissions.
Since 22 June, there has been a 99 per cent increase in Victorians in hospital with COVID-19, a 60 per cent increase in ICU admissions due to COVID-19 and a 47 per cent increase in healthcare workforce furlough.
These are significant increases, and this is a very infectious variant. The CHO continues:
This 3rd wave of the Omicron variant is expected to peak in August. The impact of this can be reduced through immediate preventative measures such as wearing a mask in indoor and crowded settings. Wearing masks when indoors outside your home helps protect yourself, your family, and your community. It will also protect our health system and support our front-line healthcare workers by reducing COVID-19 cases in the community and reducing pressure on GP practices and our hospitals. Every Victorian who wears a mask when out and about is helping our healthcare workers.
In the light of increasing infections and this advice I want to strongly encourage you to do two things over the coming five to six weeks.
Firstly, to keep coming to church and joining in your growth groups and ministries where you can. We have suffered from being unable to gather together during the lockdowns, suffered from the isolation and being left alone with our own thoughts, from the lack of the encouragement of being in the presence of other believers, from lack of awareness of the situation of others, or loss of the sense of being part of something bigger than our own small circle. It has been wonderful to be able to meet, to restart our ministries with our young people and mums and babies, even if at any given time a number of us have been absent because of sickness. That number will probably go up in the coming weeks, but we do not want to lose our gathering, and the sight of others gathering makes the livestream even better for those who have to stay at home.
But secondly, I want to encourage you to gather as thoughtfully and safely as possible. We are strongly encouraging you to wear masks in church, and I have asked Clarissa and Andrew to encourage parents to send their 8 year old and above children to church, youth group and kid’s club, with masks. Especially if you are serving in areas that engage you directly with others, like welcoming or morning tea and supper, consider wearing a mask to protect yourself and others. We will also be encouraging you to spread out through the church and observe social distancing, including when having morning tea and supper, and to keep up with all the now normal covid hygiene practices.
We will not be mandating practices that the government hasn’t mandated, but we are strongly encouraging you to do what it takes to keep yourself and others safe from transmission of the virus. I know that views in the community differ on mandates but I am glad that the government has left us to be responsible for our own safety. This is where the responsibility lies, with us, and it gives us an opportunity to exercise love, to deny ourselves to put the interests of others ahead of our own as we are called to do in Scripture [Phil. 2:3-4] -that is to be like our Saviour. Mask wearing is not about rights, but love for others. These relatively simple steps will make us able to keep meeting and going about our ministries without, Lord willing, too much disruption. We will be monitoring the situation and government advice and make changes as required and review our plans for larger events like Bundy Unplugged, deferring them if necessary until after this wave has passed.
We will not be mandating practices that the government hasn’t mandated, but we are strongly encouraging you to do what it takes to keep yourself and others safe from transmission of the virus.
As we have reminded ourselves repeatedly over the last two years our great God, Father, Son and Spirit is in charge. He rules over and directs the affairs of history to His good end, and He cares for and keeps His people. We are called to trust Him and to show that by living according to His Word. Now is a time for patience in the face of the disruption of people falling sick and the last minute changes to our plans that requires; endurance in the face of repeated sickness and frustration; thankfulness that the Lord is with us and has promised to work all things for our good, and also for His constant provision for us – in the livestream, in being His family together, in health care, in so many ways; prayerfulness that the Lord would sustain the sick and have mercy on our society by turning their hearts to Him; and above all perseverance in love – continuing to be helpful to those who fall ill and to those with continuing long Covid, seeking to encourage where we can and meeting to encourage, and showing thoughtfulness to each other in our gatherings and all our dealings with each other.
Now is a time for patience in the face of the disruption... endurance in the face of repeated sickness and frustration; [and] thankfulness that the Lord is with us and has promised to work all things for our good.