Tanzanian President John Magufuli is finally acknowledging that his country has a coronavirus problem after claiming for months that the disease had been defeated by prayer.
The local Catholic church had expressed alarm over his claims.
Magufuli on Sunday urged citizens of the East African country to take precautions and even wear face masks – but only locally made ones, the AP is reporting.
He has continually expressed doubt about “harmful” or “ineffective” foreign-made goods, including Covid-19 vaccines.
The president’s comments came days after the country of around 60 million people mourned the death of one of its highest-profile politicians: the vice-president of the island region of Zanzibar was reported to have died of Covid-19.
The president’s chief secretary also died in recent days, though the cause has not yet been revealed.
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 the country.
Tanzania’s official number of coronavirus infections remains at just 509, but citizens report that many people have become ill with breathing difficulties and hospitals have seen a rise in patients with “pneumonia”.
The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has added his voice to growing calls for Tanzania to acknowledge Covid-19 for the good of its citizens, neighbouring countries, and the world, especially after a number of countries reported that visitors arriving from Tanzania tested positive for the virus.
Tedros in a statement on Saturday called Tanzania’s situation “very concerning” and urged Magufuli’s government to take “robust action”.