Tanzania's Magufuli appears to accept COVID 'exists'
John Magufuli has long played down the virus and in mid-2020 said prayer had rid Tanzania of COVID-19 and no-one in his country needed masks.
DAR ES SALAAM - Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday appeared to admit the coronavirus was circulating in his country after months of denial, as he called for fresh prayers to combat the disease.
Magufuli has long played down the virus and in mid-2020 said prayer had rid Tanzania of COVID-19 and no-one in his country needed masks.
But a recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has left members of the public and government officials dead.
The vice president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, died on Wednesday after his opposition party admitted he had contracted coronavirus.
Magufuli was speaking at the funeral for the head of the civil service, John Kijazi, who also died on Wednesday.
The cause of death has not been revealed, however Magufuli brought up COVID-19 at his funeral, which he cagily referred to as the "respiratory disease".
"When this respiratory disease erupted last year, we won because we put God first and took other measures. I'm sure we will win again if we do so this time around," he said.
"These diseases including the respiratory disease, exist, and have killed more people in other countries... we will all die, whether with this disease or malaria or any others. Let's go back to God, maybe we messed up somewhere."
Magufuli said however, "we will not introduce any lockdown", calling for all faiths to pray instead.
"Let us all continue standing strong by putting God first and take precautions."
While mask-wearing has been taboo in the country, several mourners including former President Jakaya Kikwete could be seen donning them.
Masks are also cropping up on the street, with enterprising traders selling them at hospitals or in traffic jams.
The country last gave case figures in April 2020, at the same time as Magufuli revealed he had secretly had a variety of items tested for the virus - of which a papaya, a quail and a goat apparently tested positive.
He alleged "sabotage" at the national laboratory, even though the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said Tanzania's tests had been proven to be reliable.
Magufuli also claimed in January that the vaccines for the disease were "dangerous".