A 60-year-old pastor has become the first patient with COVID-19 to die in Malaysia as the country’s coronavirus cases climb to the highest in Southeast Asia.
The secretariat for Sarawak's state disaster management committee revealed that Pastor David Cheng from Emmanuel Baptist Church was diagnosed with the virus after being admitted to Sarawak General Hospital with a fever, cough and breathing difficulties on March 14, Channel News Asia reports.
The pastor, who had chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, was transferred to the intensive care unit after his conditions worsened and died on Tuesday.
In a statement, Cheng’s son, Anders, said: “Give us some time to grieve but fret not, we are still at peace. Death has no sting.”
Anders said that his father will be cremated. “My dad is in a place where there is no more pain, sickness, grief, sorrows or worries, and he’s in a better place than all of us. So with that, we are putting on our garments of praise and still rejoicing through this storm.”
Anders’ mother and sister are also reported to have tested positive for COVID-19.
“As of now, I’m concerned more for my mom and sis and pray that their immunity will clear it without any further complications,” said Anders. “Pray with me for my health too that I won’t be tested positive and my sister and mom will be ok, (and that) we will come out stronger.”
According to his bio on the Emmanuel Baptist Church (EBC) website, Pastor Cheng converted to Christianity in 1977. The pastor said his “greatest joy is to see people encountering the Presence of God during the time of worship.”
“The Bible verse that stirs my passion regarding worship is found in Psalm 40:3: He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord, and put their trust in him,” Cheng wrote. “May we see many continue to experience the reality of God through worship.
“Another desire of mine is to see the nurturing and rising of the next generation of worship leaders who are also passionate for the Presence of God and know how to lead the people in worship. My vision is to see the Glory of God cover Sarawak as God’s people lift up the name of Jesus Christ when they worship Him.”
The state disaster management committee announced it is still in the process of identifying the source of Pastor Cheng’s infection. It added that 193 close contacts of the pastor have been traced and are undergoing home quarantine.
Malaysia’s Health Ministry on Tuesday also confirmed a second COVID-19 victim: A 34-year-old man died at the Hospital Permai in Johor after attending a mass religious gathering by the Tabligh missionary group held in late February at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia has confirmed 790 COVID-19 cases, the highest in Southeast Asia so far. Nearly two-thirds of the cases are linked to the Islamic gathering attended by 16,000 people, including 1,500 from other countries, reports The New York Times.
On Monday, Malaysia Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that in efforts to curb the spread of the virus, Malaysians will be banned from traveling abroad, while foreign tourists and visitors will be restricted from entering the country, according to the state-run Bernama News Agency.
All Malaysians who have just returned from overseas will be required to undergo a health check and self-quarantine for 14 days. Additionally, public gatherings and movements in the whole country, including religious events, sports meets, and social and cultural activities will be prohibited.
To enforce this, Yassin stressed that all places of worship and business premises must be closed, except for supermarkets, grocery stores and convenience stores selling everyday necessities.
"I appeal to everyone to always comply with this movement control order. It is our common responsibility that we must implement as citizens who are concerned about our family, our society and our country," Yassin said.
As churches across the country suspend services in response to the coronavirus, the Council of Churches of Malaysia is encouraging believers to spend time praying for the country’s healing.
“The current epidemic is negatively affecting the world economy, the life and health of so many people in Malaysia and around the world: this is why we are called to implore God for healing and health,” the fellowship of churches said in a statement.
The Malaysian Churches “are committed to promoting peace, harmony, unity, integrity, social development and well-being for all Malaysians of all ethnicities, creeds, and cultures."