God, not masks: Magufuli’s Tanzania is an outlier on virus response

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.