A press conference held to contain fears of coronavirus and quash rumours that a minister had died of the disease has backfired spectacularly in Tanzania.
The African nation, which downplayed the impact of the virus, called on the power of prayer to defeat unnamed "respiratory diseases” following several high-profile deaths.
Zanzibar’s Vice President Seif Sharif Hamad and the Tanzanian President’s Chief Secretary John Kijazi both died, while Finance Minister Philip Mpango was admitted to a hospital.
Mr Mpango’s stint in hospital led to rumours that he had died from Covid-19, so in order to set the record straight and prove his good health, the minister conducted a press conference outside of a hospital in the capital Dodoma.
The minister coughed, gasped and spluttered throughout his address, while explaining that his health “has improved”.
A team of doctors wearing masks and white lab coats can be seen standing nearby, while Mr Mpango and two others sit at a table, all maskless.
While he didn’t discuss his illness, he did offer condolences to others who had died from “pneumonia” and “respiratory challenges”, the Independent reported.
Tanzania defeated pandemic ‘with God’s help’
President John Magufuli has repeatedly claimed that Tanzania, a country of 60 million people, defeated coronavirus with God's help.
"Maybe we have wronged God somewhere," he told mourners at a funeral for his chief secretary on Friday.
"Let us all repent."
The government has not updated its number of coronavirus cases since April and the health ministry has promoted unproven herbal remedies.
Magufuli has also questioned Covid-19 vaccines.
But the local Catholic church, the US embassy and others have openly warned of a resurgence in cases.
Vice President Hamad’s death brought widespread attention after his opposition political party said he had Covid-19.
Hamad's death is "a clear symbol this pandemic is raging," the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters on Thursday.
Speaking about the deaths of Hamad and Kijazi, Tanzania's president asked the country to remain calm.
"We managed to defeat these respiratory diseases through prayer last year. I am sure we will do so this year," he said in the televised event.
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