Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera has defended himself from public criticism for not putting on a face mask during his scheduled three-day official visit to Tanzania Wednesday.
Chakwera has been under public criticism in Malawi following pictures on social media showing him with no face coverings when he met with his Tanzanian President John Magufuli.
The move violated COVID-19 prevention guidelines Malawi instituted in August making wearing masks mandatory in public places. According to the guidelines, those who do not adhere to the measure would be fined about $15.
In his weekly national address Saturday evening, Chakwera said he did not wear a face mask in Tanzania as a sign of trust for Magufuli’s position on COVID-19. Magufuli believes there is no COVID-19 in that country, hence no need for preventive measures.
He says “the second reason why I did not put on a mask was to demonstrate my trust in my counterpart, President Magufuli. And one of the ways of showing trust in one another is putting one in a risky situation to prove that you have trust that your friend will protect you.”
Chakwera says although he, and the Malawian delegation risked the fatal COVID-19, he was happy that Magufuli did everything possible to ensure that the Malawian delegation was protected.
He says “because of such acts of trust we had very fruitful discussions, which could not happen to enhance our cooperation on different issues that will help strengthen mutual relationship between Malawi and Tanzania”
But medical experts disagree. Titus Divala, an expert in epidemics at Malawi College of Medicine, told VOA that what Chakwera was saying does not make sense.
“I would say, Malawians, please ignore him. He is a good president in many ways but ignore him on this one,” he said. “Avoid taking any message out of this gaffe [blunder]. If you are going to a place, adopt the good, ignore the bad. You can’t have COVID-19 in Malawi and not have it in Tanzania.”
Sheriff Kaisi, a lecturer in political science at Blantyre International University, told VOA that he sees nothing wrong with Chakwera doing what Tanzanians do in their own country on COVID-19.
“If Dr. Chakwera wanted to follow COVID-19 preventive measures [as followed in Malawi] he would have turned down the visit. That could be the way to go. But the moment they accepted that state visit, it means, now, international relations governs him to follow what that particular receiving nation is determined to do,” he said.
However Chakwera said, back home they will be regularly tested and be put under observation to ensure that they haven’t contracted the virus in Tanzania.