At least 60 nuns and 25 priests have died in Tanzania after displaying coronavirus symptoms, including “respiratory challenges”, according to the Catholic Church in the country.
During a news conference, the Secretary of the Tanzanian Episcopal Conference, Father Charles Kitima, urged people to wear masks and follow social distancing measures as he believed the virus was spreading in the east African country.
“Priests are dying and sisters are dying but this number within two months has shocked us, especially considering the government has strengthened health systems,” he said.
“It is upon every one of us to make sure that we take all the required precautions and protect ourselves and others, especially the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions,” Father Kitima said.
This is the second time the country’s Catholic Church has spoken out about the virus, contradicting the words of Tanzanian President John Magufuli who, for months, claimed the country had already defeated coronavirus through prayer.
Only recently, Magufuli acknowledged the surge in cases and encouraged people to wear locally-made masks but also urged citizens to “trust and put God first” and saying “wearing masks, social distancing and lockdowns have been seen to be insufficient as countries that implemented them have lost thousands compared to Tanzania.”
Father Kitima continued saying that they were unable to confirm if the deaths were Covid-related because of lack of testing but that they all displayed Covid symptoms.
“People are not tested. That’s a big challenge. The church has about 500 health centres across the country, but we are not allowed to test and we don’t have the equipment to do so,” he said.
Last month, Tedros Adhanom, the director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), called on the country to release its Covid-19 data as the situation remained “very concerning” and urged them to take “robust action”.
The country has not published any data about the infection rates nor accumulated deaths from the virus since May last year. The President has also declined to participate in the COVAX rollout, the UN’s vaccination programme.
The country’s official number of coronavirus cases remains at 509.