It was by January 6th that Macau community was getting fully aware of the crisis that was unfolding in China. From that day onwards, Jijo kept contact with the priests and bishops in China through translation help from Sr. Viktoria. He kept calling Ningbo, Beijing, Nanjing, Weinan, Anhui and Wuhan almost every day. Then the priests and bishops started talking about shortage of masks and the increasing number of deaths there.
In the next week of January we knew that it was an epidemic. Our first response was to ask the Indian medical students in Ningbo with whom Jijo was in touch with regularly, to get out of Ningbo. There were 4 students who had no plans to go to India for shortage of flight fares. We contacted the Indian embassy in China and asked for help which they did not. Then we arranged some funds and they managed to fly back to India. The internees had to stay back and they stayed put there.
On 28th Keicey, our student in Spain sorrowfully informed that his relatives had come away from Wuhan and was staying in Gunagzhou but had no masks. We managed to collect 200 pieces and sent to his family which arrived there only after two weeks.
We then wrote a letter of solidarity to all the bishops with whom Claretians were familiar with. We were specifically requested for masks from Anhui (Hunagshan) bishop and the priests in Ningbo. Then we looked for masks to be sent to China. We could not gather since there was a ban on sale of masks in Macau already. In the meanwhile we asked Fr. George Kannanthanam CMF from Bangalore, if it was possible to send some masks. The initial parcel of 1000 pieces did not reach Macau.
Fr. General called us almost every day to update the matter and we asked him to send a letter of solidarity to the Chinese bishops which he promptly did. The letter was sent to all the bishops and the bishop conference, who responded with great respect and gratitude. The letter was published in the weekly of Faith Press. At the request of Fr. JB Zhang, we contacted the mother General of the MC sisters in Kolkatta, requesting for a letter of solidarity. She did that very promptly.
Then by 1st of Feb, we had decided to bring in some masks from India through a person. By 5th of Feb. when Mr, Sibu was bringing 10000 pieces of masks from Bangalore, that very day the Government of India had blocked the export of any mask. Thanks to the airport staff’s mercy, Mr. Sibu boarded the flight with a heavy luggage. When he reached Kualalampur, his flight to Macau got cancelled. He managed to board another flight and arrived Macau. I paid them 1500 USD. Further expenditure was incurred in sending goods to China for which Fr. Rossa transferred 1000 Euros from Hong Kong community.
On 19th Jijo had a talk with Hong Kong community over skype to discuss what could be further done from our communities. It was decided to act on Fr. Jojo the prefect of apostolate’s advice (Fr. Jojo was in Nepal at that time). Then Hong Kong community decided to contribute a sum for charity related to Covid-19. The 1000 Euros the Fr. Rossa transferred came after this decision.
By that time, flights from Macau also was getting cancelled and a few cases got reported in Macau as well. Sibu’s return flight was cancelled. Thankfully, he was able to get an earlier flight and reach back to Bangalore safely. A team of volunteers helped us repack the masks and they were sent to Jin De charities, Hebei. The paperwork was difficult and sending was filled with uncertainities. Fr. Jijo then contacted red cross China and they helped in moving the cargo through SF freight company.
The Nuncio was kept informed of the activities.
Once we successfully sent the cargo to Hebei, there were other requests from JB Zhang. He asked for funds and logistics help for moving cargo from Portugal, arranged by Opus Dei (Fr. Mandia). We originally agreed to bring the cargo to Macau and I promised to sort it to Hebei. Fr. General and Fr. George and Jojo were kept informed of the developments. Then, Macau closed down. Moving cargo to Macau was difficult and with the advice of Mr. John Mampally, the regional manager of Lufthansa for cargo the materials were instructed to be directly sent to Shanghai from Portugal. Fr. General then, advised against more involvement that needed money.
On 11th Feb. Fr. Jijo’s mother expired. He decided not to go, due to the quarantine conditions in Kerala.
By, now it was getting clearer that the whole world was going to be affected by this crisis. The demand for masks were increasing and could not be found. With Fr. George Kannanthanam, we explored the possibility of installing a mask production machine in Bangalore which was later was abandoned on the advice of the General.
When the first cases were getting reported in Kerala and Delhi, I discussed with Fr. George about the need to close down the Churches. We drafted a letter and sent to CBCI, KCBC and other bishops with whom we are familiar with. After the initial resistance, CBCI and bishops started sending circulars asking to close down the Churches. Later, on 22 of March one day shut down was announced in India. It was found an ill prepared address of the PM to India and I wrote on my FB page and on Whatsapp groups, what were missing in the address. After a few minutes, Fr. Mangattuthazhathu from India called to say, that it is important to write and express difference of opinion. Fr. George Kannanthanam was also of the same opinion. The same sentiment was shared by other whatsapp groups.
The following day, however, Fr. Jacob from Bangalore wrote that such writings would endanger all Claretians in India with political vendetta, to which I made a curt reply, noted, thanks.
Later, Fr. George discussed about starting the online support centre for corona crisis to which I readily agreed and discussed the matter with Jojo. www.coronacare.life was floated with the help of Santhosh from Billion Lives tech company. The Chinese consultancy is handled by Jijo. It gave opportunity for me to get connected with a lot of good willed doctors and social workers in India.
In the meanwhile Fr. George and I discussed about how the Catholic medical facilities should be made available to the Government for the care of the patients. Fr. George then drafted a letter to this effect after consulting CHAI and other Christian Hospitals association which I edited and was submitted to CBCI. The body promptly pledged support to the Government of India for treating the patients.
As soon as the shut down in India began, Fr. George and I discussed the need to give support to migrant workers who will be stranded in the cities. We discussed the matter of asking our bishops to open up our schools to give shelter and food to these people who will be rendered homeless in just a few days. Fr. George later drafted a letter and sent to me for editing written to the Archbishop of Bangalore ccied to Fr. Xavier Manavath about availing the schools and personnel during the time of the disaster. Two days later, the Archbishop of Bangalore notified that 5 schools in the diocese would be set apart for taking care of the migrant workers.
Fr. Xavier checked on my health status, seeing a very emotional letter I wrote to George saying that perhaps some of us will have to loose our lives in this battle, probably I and George. When I wrote that letter, I was developing sore throat and slight fever. The following morning I went to the hospital for a test. After the initial look on my throat, they said, I was on a mild risk category and sent me for detailed swab test. For 8 hours I stayed in isolation and the test came thankfully negative. I found the agony of those who are under screening and isolation.
Later I called up the Health Department in Macau and suggested to segregate the patients with mild risks and serious risks. The practice was to put all men in one room and all women in another after taking the swabs. That gave chances of spreading among them if one of them in the room happen to be positive. The Department then, thanked me and assured that immediate steps would be taken to change the rooms.
One of the things that Fr. George and I discussed was taking care of the people who will be stranded in the cities without documents. At that time, the Government had not announced yet any economic package for taking care of them. Then we decided to a launch a program called Corona Care Bangalore, together with two other organizations that were working with Fr. George during the flood in Kerala. I consulted the matter with Jojo and he said, he can provide 500000 INR from the Procure fund. This amount was then advanced by Dr. Anand to Project vision account.
Patricia started raising another fund raising campaign and reached an initial amount of 25000 MOP. More funds are coming in. From the US., Bobby is also raising some funds. He promised to send 50000 INR. I informed Kannan that this amount would be transferred soon to India.
Mr. Mampilly from Hong Kong also promised to transfer some funds from his Indian account. He is given the local account number of Hope. Today, Cita also promised to contribute 5000 MOP.
The funds kept coming through different funds for the survival kit projects. We had reached around 130000 by the end of April.
In the meanwhile we had published a book in Chinese for the Provincial of the Franciscan Friars in Philadelphia. He mentioned that they were in short of masks. On16th April, a group of volunteers from India including doctors and nurses enquired if we could mobilize some masks for them.
Eventually we ended up sending 30000 masks to Fr. Thomas Betz to the University hospital and 5000 to his old age home. Of these 20000 masks were sponsored by JB Zhang, Jin De. 10000 masks were collected by the friends of Fr. Jojo And MC sisters in Macau.
By 6th of May the Indian volunteers in Dallas also received our 4500 masks for which they paid.
The forwarding costs for all these, were taken care of from the funds raised by Grace Educare.
May 17th. The Churches opened. Grace Educare. Volunteers had organized a Bazaar for raising funds for Northeast Province of India where they had visited. An ill prepared lock down in the area brought food shortage. They pledged 100000 INR to the Procurator of the Province. The Bazaar brought in 30000 MOP which was forwarded to Hope, Claretian Seminary who will forward the funds to Northeast Province.