Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appeals to the authorities to take action against the pandemic and prepare for vaccinations.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged Tanzanian authorities to take “robust measures” against the coronavirus pandemic and is increasingly warning that the country is experiencing a deadly infection resurgence.
President John Magufuli has long downplayed the virus, repeatedly claiming that Tanzania, with God’s help, defeated COVID-19 and refused to take tough measures to contain its spread.
But a recent spate of deaths from pneumonia has hit both the public and government officials. On Friday, after months of rejection, Magufuli appeared to admit that the coronavirus was circulating in Tanzania, a country of around 60 million people.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a number of Tanzanians traveling to neighboring countries and beyond had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“This underscores the need for Tanzania to take decisive action to protect both its own people and those in these countries and beyond,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
Here is a statement we just made on #Tanzania and # COVID19: https://t.co/DRKsx64vwk pic.twitter.com/RcTgy3Q0Y6
– Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) February 20, 2021
Tedros said he urged Tanzania to take action against the pandemic and prepare for vaccinations in late January.
“Since then, I have spoken to several authorities in Tanzania, but WHO has not yet received any information on what action Tanzania is taking to respond to the pandemic.
“This situation is still very worrying. I again urge Tanzania to report COVID-19 cases and share data.
“I also urge Tanzania to implement the public health measures we are aware of in order to break the chains of transmission and prepare for vaccination.”
“Let’s be careful”
The country last announced case numbers in April 2020 and reported 509 infections.
At the same time, Magufuli revealed that he was secretly having a variety of items tested for the virus – one of which a papaya, a quail and a goat appeared to test positive. He has also questioned COVID-19 vaccines without presenting any evidence.
On Wednesday, the vice-president of the semi-autonomous Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, died after his opposition party admitted he had contracted coronavirus.
Public service director John Kijazi also died on Wednesday.
The cause of death was not disclosed. But Magufuli brought up COVID-19 at his funeral.
“When this respiratory disease broke out last year, we won because we put God first and took other measures. I’m sure we’ll win again if we do this this time, ”he said.
Inside the country, however, contradictions with the government’s position on the pandemic are growing.
On Saturday, the Tanzania Law Society became the first professional organization to urge the government to openly identify the virus and take appropriate action.
On Sunday, Magufuli announced that some of his aides and family members had contracted COVID-19 but were recovering, and offered lukewarm assistance in using masks.
“The government has not banned the use of masks, but some of them are not safe at all … let’s be careful,” he said after a service in a Dar es Salaam church.
“Let us all depend on God as we take other preventive measures as well. I put God first and that’s why I don’t wear a mask. “
The Ministry of Health issued a statement on Sunday calling on citizens to “continue to believe in God” and also to respect preventive measures, including wearing masks.