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Give ‘special care’ to most vulnerable – bishop

Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo, Suriname, attends a news conference after a session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 22, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See SYNOD-INTERNATIONAL Oct. 22, 2019.


“It is clear that we can only manage this pandemic if we all work together.”

So said Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo in a message to faithful on the COVID-19 infections and the recent relaxations of measures in Suriname.

In his message Bishop Choennie said that it has become clear that the nation has now almost reached the maximum of its nursing and care capacity, both in terms of physical care and available staff.

“With the increase in the number of infections in French Guiana, Guyana and Brazil, we need not be under any illusion: we are in a risk zone and the number of infections will increase,” he said.

For Brazil, some experts expect the peak to be reached in August. The fact that a second wave of infections of an alleged mutated coronavirus is also becoming visible in China emphasises the seriousness of the matter and the fact that the world has no answer to this pandemic yet, Bishop Choennie said.

The bishop opened his message stating that while he cannot provide any new information, he can however, only repeat what citizens already know and appeal to their goodness and responsibility.

He said he expects strong, exemplary, and unambiguous leadership from the government that is based on authority and not on power. The measures, which continue to come from the National Covid Management Team, work best if they are taken in mutual consultation with a wide circle of experts and actors in society, so that all aspects of social life are addressed.

“The measures must be meaningful, realistic and targeted at the target groups. The guidelines for nurses, for example, must therefore be clearly different from those for farmers. Suriname is also such a large country that certain measures for well-protected areas can be different than for areas where, for example, community distribution is possible,” he said.

Bishop Choennie highlighted that the border rivers and cities of  Suriname and the border with Brazil deserve extra attention and must be guarded in good terms with their neighbouring countries. He added, however it is not clear what additional precautions have been taken in these areas.

“Most importantly, all those involved in guarding our borders are well aware of the heavy responsibility that rests on their shoulders: to protect society from those who may be infected and wish to enter the country illegally. Discipline and mental strength are needed in order not to yield to attempts at seduction or intimidation,” he said.

Bishop Choennie emphasised that all are called to give “special care” to vulnerable groups—senior citizens, people with underlying conditions, poor people who cannot protect themselves, indigenous people and Maroons who can come into contact with illegal gold miners.

These  groups are at greater risk of contamination due to their physical condition or because of the circumstances in which they are forced to find themselves.

He also drew special attention to native brothers in the south of Suriname. It is known that there are infections in the Tareno indigenous tribe in Brazil and that there is frequent contact with the indigenous tribes of Southern Suriname. Fortunately, he said, there are organisations that deal specifically with these groups.

“It would be good if extra attention was given to the isolated groups in the reporting,” he said.

In lockdown

Meanwhile, Melvin Mackintosh, Head of the Department of Media and Communication of the Diocese of Paramaribo and manager for OMHOOG and Radio Immanuel Suriname told Catholic News last week that the diocese was now under six weeks of lockdown. The lockdown, he explained, which began as a “partial lockdown” of two weeks, was “lifted” on Pentecost, Sunday, May 31.

For services on Pentecost, the churches were allowed to facilitate up to 250 persons.

“Before it was 50 persons,” Mackintosh said. “Last minute, the government reversed the decision and a total lockdown was announced. Churches cannot open doors to the public for now.”

Mackintosh said while the faithful yearn to return to church, they tune in to various religious programmes and livestreamed Mass via radio and television. Various priests, he said have regular contact with parishioners via phone to offer words of encouragement. More parishes in the Diocese of Paramaribo are now livestreaming Masses and daily prayers on Facebook.

Mackintosh shared that as of June 25, there were 187 active cases, 373 positive cases, 10 deaths, 176 recoveries, 7 in the intensive care unit and 291 in quarantine.