IN AN ABOUT FACE, TANZANIA PRESIDENT ACKNOWLEDGES GROWING VIRUS RISK

For months, Tanzanian President John Magufuli stuck to a controversial stand that COVID-19 would only be defeated by prayer.

This Sunday, the President amended his position. He urged citizens to wear masks – only locally made ones – and take other preventive measures against the virus.

A few hours later, the health ministry issued a statement also calling on people to wear face masks and wash their hands to prevent COVID-19 infections, according to local media.

The president’s comments came a day after the World Health Organization’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus released a statement urging Tanzania to take “robust action” to tackle the outbreak in the country as “the situation remains very concerning”.

He chided the East African nation for failing to respond to a request for information regarding what measures Tanzania was taking to respond to the pandemic. He noted that several Tanzanians traveling to neighboring countries had tested positive for the virus.

Recently, Tanzania, with 60 million people, mourned the death of one of its highest-profile politicians, the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose infection with COVID had been announced by his political party. Magufuli’s chief secretary also died in recent days, though the cause was not revealed.

Magufuli, speaking at the chief secretary’s funeral in a nationally televised broadcast on Friday, had urged the nation to participate in three days of prayer for unspecified “respiratory” illnesses that had become a challenge to the country.

Tanzania has not updated its number of coronavirus infections since April as the president has insisted COVID-19 had been defeated.

Tanzania’s official number of coronavirus infections remains at just 509, but residents report many people have become ill with breathing difficulties and hospitals have seen a rise in patients diagnosed with “pneumonia”.

Meanwhile, Africa has surpassed 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 as the continent praised for its early response to the pandemic now struggles with a dangerous resurgence and medical oxygen often runs desperately short.

“We are more vulnerable than we thought,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told The Associated Press in an interview reflecting on the pandemic and a milestone he called “remarkably painful.”

“We are beginning to normalize deaths,” while health workers are overwhelmed, he said.

Large-scale deliveries of COVID-19 have yet to reach the 54-nation continent of some 1.3 billion people , but a variant of the virus dominant in South Africa is already posing a challenge to vaccination efforts. Still, if doses are available, the continent should be able to vaccinate 35% to 40% of its population before the end of 2021 and 60% by the end of 2022, Nkengasong said. w/pix of Tanzanian church service