Having refused COVID-19 hit the country for months, alleging that the disease was defeated by ‘prayers’, Tanzania’s leader on Sunday acknowledged that there was a “covid problem” within the nation. Addressing the local press on February 21, President John Magufuli asked citizens to ‘wear locally manufactured masks’ and take health safety precautions amid fears of COVID-19 spread and surge in the confirmed cases. Magufuli’s remarks, admitting the grim situation, comes after the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, passed away due to the COVID-19 infection, the political party told reporters. Another death of the president’s chief secretary was suspected to have been caused due to respiratory disease, although the officials are yet to make a public announcement about the cause of death.
In a state televised address, attending the funeral ceremony of his political counterpart, the Tanzanian president without naming COVID-19, told citizens to “pray for 3 days” in order to mitigate an “unidentified respiratory illness” that has spread in the country. Calling [COVID-19] illness a challenge for his government, the leader said that people must “trust God”. Last year, as the pandemic ravaged most of the western nations, Tanzania declared itself “covid free” after organising a mass prayer for 3 days, following which President Magufuli refused to impose a lockdown, as he reopened schools, allowed sporting events, public activities, and religious congregations. Further, he halted testing, and all public campaigns to create awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic precautionary measures.
Tamko la Balozi Donald Wright Kuhusu Kifo cha Makamu wa Kwanza wa Rais wa Zanzibar Seif Sharif Hamad.— US Embassy Tanzania (@usembassytz) February 18, 2021
Soma zaidi https://t.co/QEpPauvUz9
Statement from Ambassador Wright on the passing of Seif Sharif Hamad, First Vice President of Zanzibar.
Read more https://t.co/dbmAlWdEBm pic.twitter.com/4rXhplnSMx
In what created a stir among world leaders, and the world health organization (WHO), Tanzania stopped reporting confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus since April, last year, and urged citizens to opt for traditional African remedies in case of symptoms. Condemning President Magufuli’s approach, which defied science-based facts, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appealed to the health authorities to take a “robust action” against the pandemic. Tedros, denouncing the Tanzanian leader’s downplaying of the deadly virus, urged the country to start a mass vaccination campaign. However, long denying the impact of the disease and covid-related deaths, Tanzania’s leader insisted that the nation would defeat coronavirus “with God’s help.” Joining calls of WHO, the US, and its local Catholic church berated Tanzania’s political administration calling the situation in the country “concerning”.
Meanwhile, on February 20, the WHO chief held a meeting with the WHO Director for the African Region Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, wherein, he insisted that Tanzania scales up the public health measures against COVID-19, starts vaccination, and shares data in light of reports of COVID-19 cases. The WHO, meanwhile, also urged Tanzania to take precautions as several Tanzanian travellers tested positive for the virus at borders of other countries. “This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data. I also call on Tanzania to implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chains of transmission, and to prepare for vaccination,” Tedros said at a press conference.