NAIROBI, Kenya — Tanzania’s president is again claiming the country is free of the coronavirus because of the power of prayer — six weeks after his government stopped publicly updating virus data.
“Corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,” President John Magufuli declared at a church service on Sunday. He praised the congregation for not wearing face masks, amid cheers from the faithful. He has warned that masks not approved by the government could be infected with the virus.
Magufuli is a Catholic who often sings in his church’s choir, although he is often at odds with the bishops over public policy.
Tanzania’s number of COVID-19 cases has been stuck at 509 for six weeks as health officials, opposition figures and some neighboring countries worry that cases in the East African nation continue to climb. Opposition figures have estimated that cases could be in the tens of thousands.
While many African countries have been praised for their response to the virus, Tanzania’s Magufuli believes the pandemic has been greatly exaggerated and is being used by unnamed forces to sabotage the economy.
The president has questioned, even fired, health officials and refused to limit people’s movements, and he has claimed his son was healed of COVID-19 by drinking a mixture of ginger and lemonade.
“When I came to power they said we have cases of the Zika virus and I fired the person who announced that … Since I fired him five years ago, Tanzania has not had cases of Zika,” Magufuli said at a teachers’ conference Friday in the capital, Dodoma.
“Then they said we have Ebola knowing that tourists will not come to a country which has Ebola and people will not work here if there is Ebola,” he said, adding that no one had died of that virus.
“Now we have corona. They said bodies will be lying on streets in Africa. But they did not know God loves Tanzania,” Magufuli said. “We prayed for three days and the coronavirus is finished.”
He said only four people are sick with COVID-19 in the country of nearly 60 million people.
The U.S. Embassy last month released a security alert asserting that hospitals in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, were overwhelmed with virus patients.
Opposition politician Zitto Kabwe later asserted that Magufuli had de-congested hospitals in an effort to show a low number of infections.
Crux staff contributed to this report.