Tanzanian President John Magufuli has finally acknowledged that his country has a coronavirus problem after claiming for months that the virus had been defeated by prayer.
On Sunday, the populist leader urged his people to take precautions and even wear face masks — but only locally made ones. Over the course of the pandemic, Mr. Magufuli has expressed wariness about foreign-made goods, including COVID-19 vaccines.
His comments came days after Tanzania and its estimated 60 million people mourned the death of one of its highest-profile politicians, the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose political party had earlier said he had COVID-19.
President Magufuli’s chief secretary also died in recent days, though the cause was not disclosed.
Mr. Magufuli, speaking at his chief secretary’s funeral in a nationally televised broadcast on Friday, urged the nation to participate in three days of prayer for unspecified “respiratory” illnesses that had become a challenge in Tanzania.
The east African country has not updated its number of coronavirus infections since April as the president has insisted COVID-19 had been defeated.
Its official number of coronavirus cases remains at just 509, but residents report that many people have become ill with breathing difficulties and hospitals have seen a rise in patients for “pneumonia”.
Adding his voice to growing calls for Tanzania to acknowledge COVID-19, Director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was for the good of its citizens, neighboring countries, and the world. Dr. Tedros noted that a number of countries had reported that visitors arriving from Tanzania tested positive for the virus.