Tanzania’s President Focused on Prayer as Coronavirus Cases Climbed

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East African nation has no plans in place to accept COVID-19 vaccines.

Tanzania’s president is finally acknowledging that his country has a coronavirus problem after claiming for months that the disease had been defeated by prayer.

Populist President John Magufuli on February 21 urged citizens of the East African country to take precautions and even wear face masks—but only locally made ones. Over the course of the pandemic he has expressed wariness about foreign-made goods, including COVID-19 vaccines.

Last month, the president called on his 60 million citizens for three days of prayer to defeat unnamed “respiratory diseases” amid warnings that the country is seeing a deadly resurgence in infections.

“Maybe we have wronged God somewhere,” Magufuli told mourners at a funeral for his chief secretary, John Kijazi, on February 19. “Let us all repent.”

Though the East African nation in late February announced public health rules similar to other nation’s COVID-19 measures, Magufuli has repeatedly claimed that Tanzania defeated COVID-19 with God’s help. The government has not updated its official number of coronavirus cases since April, and the health ministry has promoted unproven herbal remedies.

But the local Catholic church, the US Embassy, and others have openly warned of a resurgence in cases. On February 20, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, added his voice to growing calls for Tanzania to acknowledge COVID-19 for the good of its citizens, neighboring countries, and the world, especially after a number of countries reported that visitors arriving from Tanzania tested positive for the virus.

And the death last month of the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, …

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