DAR ES SALAAM - Opposition leaders in Tanzania are criticizing the government's response to the coronavirus, after President John Magufuli said he would never close down places of worship.
While Tanzania has been taking the same measures against coronavirus as other African nations — closing schools, quarantining foreign arrivals, and banning public events — Magufuli's government refuses to close down churches.
At a Sunday service this week, Magufuli said the virus is "satanic" and therefore cannot thrive in churches.
The chairman of the opposition Civic United Front party, Ibrahim Lipumba, told VOA that government statements on the virus should focus on prevention. If people continue gathering in crowds, he said, there will be danger.
Abdul Nondo, youth representative for the Alliance for Change and Transparency party, said via a messaging app that Magafuli's statement goes against World Health Organization guidance. Italy was hit hard by the disease because they delayed taking strong measures, he added.
Supporters say the Tanzanian president's vow to keep churches open is designed to comfort people and prevent fear over the coronavirus. But it also risks discouraging the public from taking preventive measures seriously.
Dar es Salaam resident Joel Majula said he is less afraid of the virus after Magufuli's comments on churches. When the faithful to go to mosques and churches, they wash their hands, which they believe is the best way to prevent the disease, he said, adding that they don't believe people gathering together could bring negative effects.
Tanzania is not the only country grappling with concerns over religious gatherings. In many countries, churches, mosques and other institutions are holding services online, or canceling them altogether.
But some religious leaders insist on going ahead as normal. In the U.S. state of Louisiana, one church defied the state governor's advice and held a service last Sunday that attracted more than 1,800 people.
Health experts have warned that social distancing is essential to limiting the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 25,000 people worldwide and infected more than a half-million.