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Francis Campbell: Pandemic recovery of biblical proportions?

  • September 15, 2021

Then, miraculously, everything returned to normal.

Or so it would seem.

The tiny coastal province of Nova Scotia announced last week that a jump in vaccination bookings had officials optimistic that Phase 5 of the COVID-19 reopening plan could kick in as scheduled on Sept. 15.

Could the long, arduous 18 months of government-mandated COVID restrictions really be coming to an end?

“I truly believe Nova Scotia is ready,” Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said at a Sept. 8 news briefing alongside newly elected Premier Tim Houston. “We have shown what needs to be done in the past and our vaccination rates are among the highest in the world.”

Nova Scotia’s population, just shy of one million, have, for the most part, adhered to public health policies about isolating, travel, gathering, masking, hand-washing and getting vaccinated.

Almost 80 per cent of Nova Scotians had gotten their first dose of vaccine at the time of the briefing “and we’re very close to reaching our target of at least 75 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated with two doses,” Strang said.

“Close enough that I feel comfortable that we will reach that target and be able to move into Phase 5 on Sept. 15.”

Phase 5 means an end to mandatory indoor masking, physical distancing and gathering limits.

If indeed we are stumbling out of the woods, many of us here and around the globe required a significant measure of divine and spiritual help to get there.

Christianity Today reported in late 2020 that, during the hardest moments of a particularly difficult year, online Bible searches skyrocketed as people searched for help to cope with pandemic hardships.

The YouVersion Bible app experienced an uptick of 80 per cent in searches in 2020. Online users looked for biblical passages to assuage their feelings of fear and to address healing.

The most popular passage searched could have been written particularly for Nova Scotians. Isaiah 41 talks of the “coastlands” seeing and fearing.

“Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God. I will strengthen you, and uphold you with my right hand of justice.”

The increase in people seeking out Bible passages during the pandemic probably filled a void left by churches not being able to offer the refuge of the pews.

Fear and dismay have been our constant companions for the past 18 months and any sign of a reprieve is more than welcome. During the dark times, we traditionally turn to God more than when things are going well and we hoodwink ourselves into believing we can handle things on our own.

Strang said strong and divided views are expected on the province’s proof of vaccination policy.

“My appeal to all Nova Scotians is that we not let this issue divide us like it is elsewhere,” Strang said. “The vaccine isn’t foolproof but it is highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.”

The mixed feelings about the move to Phase 5 indicate we have not totally emerged from our 18 months of wandering in the woods.

Those feelings are particularly acute among parents of school-aged children, teachers and staff.

“With the rise in the Delta variant, and a fourth wave started in other parts of Canada, we are concerned that the decision to end mandatory COVID protocols as students are back in classrooms is short-sighted and unnecessarily risky,” the group Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education said in a statement.

Strang said he strongly encourages people to continue wearing masks indoors and businesses and organizations are free to set their own masking policies. 

“Make no mistake that required masking will be one of the first measures brought back if cases rise in a certain area or setting,” Strang said.

Such a rise in cases and renewed COVID restrictions will no doubt coincide with an almost miraculous increase in Bible passage searches and private prayer.

(Campbell is a reporter with the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)

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