Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – Esther Mngodo, like other Tanzanians, was relieved to hear that this week, government officials were finally calling on people in the country to take precautions against the coronavirus – and even to wear face masks.
“It’s a good move,” said Mngodo, a 34-year-old resident of Dar es Salaam. “But much more needs to be done to raise 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 of official position on the coronavirus, President John Magufuli said on Sunday that the government had not banned the wearing of masks and encouraged those willing to do so.
However, he warned against defective face coatings sold in the country, suggesting that the high number of deaths related to coronavirus worldwide could be linked to the intake of such products and arguing that those in rural Tanzania are less likely to fall victim to the virus because they do not usually carry them.
“The government has not banned the wearing of masks. But we must be careful which masks we wear. We will perish. Don̵
“These masks that we buy in stores, we kill ourselves,” he argued, before advising Tanzanians to make their own masks or use those made locally.
Magufuli has long downplayed the severity of COVID-19, urging Tanzanians to pray, use steam inhalation and take topical medications to protect themselves from respiratory disease. Tanzania stopped spreading the number of those infected in April 2020, weeks before Magufuli declared the country coronavirus-free in June through divine intervention.
For Mngodo, the recent U-turn may be the result of what appears to be a deadly resurgence of the infection that has swept the country over the past few months.
“The extent of the problem seems to have reached a point where the government cannot deny the seriousness of the problem,” said Mngodo, a media consultant.
Reports of deaths, often attributed to “current pneumonia” or “breathing problems”, flooded social media.
The dead included a number of high-ranking officials, including several university professors, a former central bank governor, the country’s chief secretary and Zanzibar’s first vice president, Maalim Saif Sharif Hamad.
Of these, Hamad is the only person confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus as he sends the results of his COVID-19 test to the media. As for the others, the public is left to speculate on the causes of their deaths, at a time when the world is still struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and many ordinary Tanzanians are affected by its effects.
These circumstances have prompted religious leaders and other critics, especially on social media, to pressure the government to provide clear and consistent guidelines for fighting the pandemic, while urging people to take precautions.
A Tanzanian doctor based in the United States, Frank Minja, said the change of words was welcomed if it had occurred long ago and could provide an opportunity. “We want to encourage [the president] to move faster in the implementation of what we know to be effective and to implement it immediately, “he said.
“I don’t want to say it’s too late, because if we say it’s too late, it means we may not be doing anything. And because the pandemic is attacking in waves, it’s never too late to start doing the right thing, “added Minja, who is running a social media campaign to raise awareness about the coronavirus.
Dorothy Semu, acting chairman of the opposition ACT Wazalendo, criticized Magufuli, saying measures taken at the time of the virus’s first entry into the country – including physical distancing and the cancellation of major events – must be maintained.
“I’m a politician, but I also believe in science,” Samu said. “As leaders responsible for 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 previous measures, and we would save many lives. “
Magufuli’s new position – a former teacher and industrial chemist – regarding the wearing of masks has also prompted many other government officials and officials to step out suddenly and warn people of the dangers of coronavirus and the steps people must take to protect themselves. from a virus.
For example, the agency that operates fast buses in Dar es Salaam on Monday said passengers would not be allowed to board unless they wore a mask.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health, headed by Dorothy Guajima, who previously advocated inhaling steam and vegetable smoothies for the treatment of COVID-19, issued a statement earlier this week warning people against the virus and urging them to take precautions. .
However, he insisted he would not recommend blocking measures.
“As the president said, we won last year and the economy continued to grow until we achieved middle-income economic status and the coronavirus still exists,” the ministry said in a statement.
“We have not imposed blockades and even now we will not impose blockades because God is on our side.”