COVID-19: knowing the facts

In this time of uncertainty and upheaval, the Church needs to be a trusted and reliable source of information. Here we provide links to factual information and guidance for church leaders.

Key facts

This video from the UK’s National Health Service has basic information about COVID-19, including how the virus attacks the body and why physical distancing is so important for slowing the spread of the pandemic.


Symptoms update: June 30th 2021

The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is constantly mutating and variants are emerging. The delta variant (originally identified in India) is now present in 80 countries and is much more infectious than the original strain. A study in the UK, where the delta variant is the most prevalent strain currently, indicates that people are experiencing different symptoms from the ones we have become accustomed to as typical of Covid-19. The following is an extract from a CNBC article (our emphasis).

Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, runs the Zoe Covid Symptom study, an ongoing U.K.-based study which enables the public to enter their Covid symptoms on an app when enables scientists to then analyze the data. 

“Covid is also acting differently now,” Spector noted in a YouTube briefing last week

“Since the start of May, we have been looking at the top symptoms in the app users and they are not the same as they were,” he said. “The number one symptom is headache, then followed by sore throat, runny nose and fever.” More “traditional” Covid symptoms such as a cough and loss of smell were much rarer now he said, with younger people experiencing much more of a bad cold or “funny off feeling.” 

This academic research corroborates what the Anglican Alliance is hearing. Our senior adviser reports that in Uganda the changed presentation can result in symptoms being misdiagnosed as malaria and Covid not being confirmed until it is too late to save the patient’s life.

The World Health Organisation (WHO)  website provides reliable information about COVID-19. This includes advice for people on how to protect themselves and others, and has the latest guidance on using face masks.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center tracks global numbers of COVID-19 infections and other critical data related to the pandemic.

The World Health Organization also provide up to date information on how the pandemic is progressing across the world in its  weekly summaries of the most recent data on the pandemic and vaccine progress.

UNICEF also have a helpful page of clear information aimed at parents, but applicable to everyone. This includes a section (towards the bottom of the page) on the best way to talk about COVID-19 (do’s and don’ts).

See the resources and links on the right of the page for posters and information, including on how to make “tippy taps” – a simple but effective way to enable hand washing. The Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) has gathered a selection of resources for WASH practitioners, which includes many useful guides to making things such as soap solutions and other disinfectants.

Long Covid

As well as causing acute illness, it is now known that a significant number of people develop “long Covid”. Long Covid is persistent illness resulting from COVID-19 infection, lasting weeks or months, and can be extremely debilitating. It occurs in people who might have had the acute phase of Covid quite mildly and who were previously fit and healthy. Significantly, it affects young people much more commonly than acute symptomatic Covid does – an important health message.

There is a wide range of symptoms associated with long Covid. More is being learned all the time in this new area. For further information, see this September briefing from the WHO (slide  8 onwards); this article from the BBC; and this page written by someone living with long Covid.

Countering misinformation

There are many myths circulating on social media about COVID-19. The WHO has a myth buster section with downloadable posters.

There are also some good fact checking websites, such as Snopes and Full Fact.

COVID-19 vaccine information and countering misinformation

Vaccines offer the hope of ending the acute phase of the pandemic. Vaccines are arguably the most effective health interventions known to humankind and have saved the lives of millions of people from diseases such as smallpox, tetanus, polio, measles, diphtheria, TB and many more. Vaccination is also highly cost effective, utilising the body’s natural defence mechanisms and exemplifying the proverbial saying “prevention is better than cure”.

Thanks to the extraordinary endeavours of scientists and unprecedented levels of public investment , an array of Covid-19 vaccines has been developed. Several have been approved for safety and efficacy and are being rolled out in mass vaccination campaigns. This is an astounding and laudable achievement and, of course, much needed and welcome good news. However, there is currently insufficient harnessing of capacity to produce and deliver the quantities of vaccines needed globally. Demand far outstrips current supply. Furthermore, hesitancy about taking up the offer of the vaccines, where they are available – whether due to genuine uncertainty or uncertainty stoked by fake news – is also hampering uptake and prolonging the pandemic, causing further loss and suffering.

The Anglican Alliance is currently working on two dimensions of the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out: advocacy on equitable global access to vaccines and sharing information to help overcome vaccine hesitancy. Please see the information in the following links:

The World Health Organization is working with faith based organisations on vaccine communication because they recognise the importance of faith leaders as trusted voices within their communities. WHO, in partnership with UNICEF and Religions for Peace are convening an ongoing series of webinars providing extremely helpful information on why trusted voices are important during crises; how to address or respond to questions about COVID-19 vaccines and the role of faith leaders in supporting vaccine uptake in their communities:

Revd Canon Rachel Carnegie, Anglican Alliance Executive Director, was a participant in part 2 of The role of faith actors in overcoming barriers to COVID-19 vaccination webinar, speaking about the work the Alliance has been doing in this area. Her contribution is in the clip below.

See also this great resource from the Episcopal Church in the USA. Their Toolkit for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution is designed as a compilation of ideas and educational resources to help local Episcopal Churches in the USA work with the government to help end the pandemic. However, many of the ideas and suggestions are applicable to other places as churches and church leaders (lay and ordained) can serve as important trusted bridges between public health officials and congregations.

Guidance for churches

It is important that the Church follows official advice and issues guidance that is in line with World Health Organization (WHO) and national government information, as a lack of consistency in the messages people hear leads to confusion.

The WHO issued initial guidance specifically for faith-based organisations and faith leaders and have since produced a detailed document on ‘Practical considerations and recommendations for religious leaders and faith-based communities in the context of COVID-19‘.

World Vision International also has a clear and comprehensive resource on guidance for faith communities, which covers: protecting your staff and congregation; giving accurate information; planning ahead; connecting and caring for your community; providing psychosocial support to families and wider community; providing spiritual nurture.

Provinces around the Communion are providing guidance to churches. This example from the Church of England contains much valuable information, including links to digital resources.

In many places, mass gatherings are now banned by governments, meaning church services cannot take place for the time being. Even where not mandated, WHO advises faith communities “to conduct faith activities remotely, rather than in-person, using available technology to maintain community and continue worship.”

As the pandemic took hold, Convenor of the Anglican Health Network, Rt Revd Dr Michael Beasley, advised: “As the COVID-19 pandemic develops around the world, official public health authorities are advising churches not to join together for worship and other gatherings and to worship remotely, staying in the home. This is crucial to prevent the spread of the virus, to save the lives of the most vulnerable, and to protect health services from being overwhelmed by cases. It is the loving thing to do, even though painful. Where possible, church leaders can lead in worship remotely using the internet, radio or a call for prayer at a specific time. Single households can also pray and reflect on scripture together.

Reopening churches
As the pandemic progresses, some places are beginning to see an easing of lockdown measures and some churches are being allowed to reopen. Our page on reopening churches as safely as possible provides links and information on both the thinking and biblical reflection that will need to take place before reopening a church and the practical ways to do so as safely as possible while recognising the ongoing risks.

Guidance for Schools

Across the world there are many Anglican church schools and many Christians work in the field of education. The following documents from UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) provide guidance for schools in relation to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools was published by UNICEF, WHO and IFRC in March. It provides clear information and check lists for school administrators, teachers and staff; parents, caregivers and community members; and children.

Considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19 was published by WHO in May. It provides a series of questions to help guide decision-makers and educators on how or when to reopen or close schools in the context of COVID-19.

What is COVID-19 / Coronavirus?
The World Health Organization write:

“Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.

“Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.  Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

 “The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol-based rub frequently and not touching your face. 

 “The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow).

 “At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. WHO will continue to provide updated information as soon as clinical findings become available.”

What is a virus?
A virus is an infectious agent that can only reproduce inside the cells of a living host. A virus has two or three components: genes, a protein coat and (in some cases) a lipid envelope.

COVID-19 has a lipid envelope. This is why soap is so effective against the COVID-19; soap destroys the lipid envelope. So do other detergents and alcohol rubs (but these have to contain a certain percentage of alcohol to be effective).

There are many, many types of viruses. They are a necessary part of the natural world. This article gives a helpful perspective: viruses a good part of God’s creation.