Tanzanian President, John Magufuli, has called on citizens to turn to God and to keep the economy turning, but as coronavirus cases creep up, calls are rising for the country to take stronger action.
While countries across Africa have imposed curfews, partial and full lockdowns, Tanzania has resisted such measures. Schools and universities have been shut but markets, bus stops and shops bustle as usual.
Magufuli, who called for three days of prayer from last Friday to fight the virus, is one of a handful of world leaders still brushing off the seriousness of the disease.
“This is time to build our faith and continue praying to God and not depending on facemasks. Don’t stop going to churches and mosques for prayers. I’m sure this is just a change of wind and it will go like others have gone,” Magufuli said at a church in Dodoma last month.
He reiterated his message on Good Friday, last week, saying God would protect Tanzanians from the virus. Tanzania recorded its first case of coronavirus on March 16 — and in the past week numbers have leapt from 32 to 147, with five deaths.
African countries have lagged behind the global curve, and many took fast and strict measures to curb movement, however cases are rising across the continent. “I am not happy about the lack of seriousness by the government, lack of transparency on the data of cases and deaths, and state of denial the president has on the pandemic,” an opposition MP, Zitto Kabwe, who is also the leader of the ACT Wazalendo party, told AFP.
– ‘Continue producing’ –
Kabwe has proposed a partial lockdown of Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Mwanza and the capital Dodoma, and also a total lockdown of the tourist hotspot and semi-autonomous island, Zanzibar. However, Magufuli has encouraged Tanzanians to continue working as usual, while encouraging them to avoid “unnecessary gatherings”.
“Let us continue working hard to build our nation. Coronavirus is not and should not be a reason for us not working. Farmers should utilise the ongoing rains effectively, industrial owners should continue producing and I don’t expect any development project to stop,” he said.
“Coronavirus should not be a reason to destroy our economy at all.” The country’s economy has already been hard hit as tourists who flock to see its wildlife and beaches, have stopped coming. Tourism is the country’s top foreign-exchange earner.
On the streets of the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, citizens say they fear the virus and are doing what they can to avoid it while continuing to make ends meet.