Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania – Esther Mngodo, like other Tanzanians, was relieved to hear this week that government officials are finally urging residents of the country to take precautions against the coronavirus – and even to wear face masks.
“It’s a good decision,” said Mngodo, a 34-year-old Dar-es-Salaam resident. “But there is still a lot to be done to increase public awareness, testing and treatment. Most importantly, we need to have a clear strategy on how to navigate these unprecedented times. “
In a surprise change in the official position on the coronavirus, President John Magufuli said on Sunday that the government had not banned the wearing of masks and encouraged those who wanted to do it.
However, he cautioned against what he claimed to be faulty face covers on sale in the country, suggesting that the high death rates from coronaviruses around the world could be linked to the use of these products and saying that people in rural areas of Tanzania were less likely to fall victim to the virus because they tended not to carry them.
“The government has not banned the wearing of masks. But we have to be careful with the masks we wear. We will perish. Don’t think we’re loved so much. Economic warfare is bad, ”Magufuli told a congregation at a church service in Dar-es-Salaam.
“These masks that we buy in stores, we kill ourselves,” he said, before advising Tanzanians to make the masks themselves or to use those produced locally.
Magufuli has long minimized the severity of COVID-19, urging Tanzanians to pray, use steam inhalation and adopt local remedies to protect themselves from respiratory illness. Tanzania stopped publishing infection figures in April 2020, weeks before Magufuli declared the country coronavirus-free in June thanks to divine intervention.
For Mngodo, the recent turnaround could be the result of what appears to be a deadly resurgence of the infection, which has swept the country in recent months.
“It seems that the scale of the problem has reached a point where the government cannot deny the seriousness of the problem,” said Mngodo, media consultant.
Reports of deaths often attributed to “current pneumonia” or “breathing problems” have flooded social media.
Among those who died are a number of prominent figures, including several university professors, a former governor of the central bank, the chief secretary of the country and the first vice-president of Zanzibar, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad.
Among them, Hamad was the only person confirmed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus, as he sent his COVID-19 test results to the media. As for the rest, the public has been left to speculate on the causes of their deaths, at a time when the world is still battling the coronavirus pandemic and many ordinary Tanzanians have been affected by the effects of it.
These circumstances have led religious leaders and other critics, especially on social media, to pressure the government to provide clear and consistent guidance on tackling the pandemic, while urging individuals to take precautions. .
US-based Tanzanian doctor Frank Minja said the change of mind was welcome, if long overdue, and could present an opportunity. “We want to encourage [the president] to speed up the implementation of what we know is effective and implement it immediately, ”he said.
“I don’t mean to say it’s too late, because if we say too late, it means we might as well be doing nothing. And because, by its nature, the pandemic attacks in waves, it is never too late to start doing the right thing, ”added Minja, who has campaigned on social media to raise awareness of the coronavirus.
Dorothy Semu, acting president of opposition party ACT Wazalendo, criticized Magufuli, saying the measures implemented when the virus first entered the country – including physical distancing and the cancellation of major events – should have been maintained.
“I am a politician but I am also a supporter of science,” Semu said. “As responsible leaders in people’s lives, it is important that we make our decisions based on facts. It’s like when HIV / AIDS was discovered; some people denied his presence and many lives were lost. So I expected the president, who is also a scientist, to continue with the past measures and we would have saved many lives.
Magufuli’s new stance – a former teacher and industrial chemist – on wearing the mask also appears to have prompted many other public services and officials to suddenly come forward and warn people of the dangers of the coronavirus and the actions individuals should take. to protect yourself from the virus.
For example, the agency that runs Dar-es-Salaam’s rapid transit buses on Monday said passengers would not be allowed to board unless they were wearing masks.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health, led by Dorothy Gwajima, who has previously advocated for inhaling steam and a plant-based smoothie to treat COVID-19, earlier this week issued a statement warning people against the viruses and urging them to take precautions.
However, he insisted he would not recommend any lockdown measures.
“As the president said, we won last year and the economy continued to grow until we reached middle-income economy status, and the coronavirus was still there,” said the Ministry.
“We haven’t established a lockdown, and even now we won’t impose a lockdown because God is on our side.”