In an unprecedented move, a mayor in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania has ordered councillors to take off their face masks at a meeting.
Calls on Tanzanians to take precautionary measures against the spread of coronavirus have mounted in recent days.
The country’s finance minister Dr Philip Mpango recently urged his staff to be cautious of the virus. However, he appeared obliged to repeat the official line that “Tanzania is COVID-free.”
But Mr Juma Raibu Juma, the mayor for Moshi municipality ordered the local leaders and other people at the meeting not to wear the masks, saying the municipality is safe, local media reported.
“Before opening our session I would like to ask all those who are wearing masks to stand up. Take off your masks, our municipality is safe, I am the mayor and I am not wearing a mask, yet you are wearing [a mask]. Does that mean you love yourself more,” said Mr Juma, as quoted by the media.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the wearing of face masks where the coronavirus is spreading and stresses that they should be worn by everyone in health care facilities and for all interactions in poorly-ventilated indoor spaces.
The mayor advised against the WHO’s recommendation when he was opening a council’s budget meeting session in Moshi District on Thursday, January 28, 2021. The councillors obeyed him.
Since May, 2020, when President John Magufuli declared the country COVID-19 free, there has been no more official data reporting on the viral disease when the WHO last updated Tanzania’s 509 cases and 21 deaths.
Tanzanians began walking freely around; going to restaurants, bars and clubs, no wearing of face masks, no reminders about hand-washing. Schools, stadiums and all public places re-opened.
According to Google Trends, there have been almost no Tanzanians searching the word “corona” online in the past 12 months since May.
But in the past one week, religious leaders under the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC) have been reminding their followers to take precautions against “a possible new wave of coronavirus infections.”
The Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender Elderly and Children has not issued any statement on the matter.
Deputy Minister Dr Godwin Mollel told local media that matters to do with COVID-19 should be left to scientists, repeating the President’s stance that Tanzania is “COVID-19 free.”
“Should there be any problem, the government will explain. People should continue with their normal routines,” said Dr Mollel.
On Wednesday, President Magufuli said he was aware of some Tanzanians who went out of the country to be vaccinated and returned to Tanzania with “a strange form of coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, some Tanzanians have been taking precautions. According to Google Trends, there is a significant increase in the number of people Tanzania searching the word “corona” online in recent days.