Sinister truth of nation’s ‘COVID-free’ claim
If you take a look at the statistics of how each country is managing the pandemic, the east African nation of Tanzania appears to be doing a sterling job.
The last recorded cases and deaths in the country of 58 million were in April last year. In total, it has claimed to have seen a mere 509 cases – less than South Australia – and 21 deaths.
It’s a remarkable achievement. Particularly given neighbouring Kenya, which has a similar population, has had 104,000 COVID-19 cases and almost 2000 deaths during several waves of the virus.
President John Magufuli declared the country “coronavirus free” nine months ago. Mask wearing is rare and no orders for vaccinations have been put in place.
The country has no plans to import any vaccines into the country.
So what’s Tanzania’s secret to zero cases? There are increasing suspicions that secret is simply not to count them.
Last week, the country was rattled when it was revealed one of the nation’s most renowned politicians had died after contracting coronavirus.
Now the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made an urgent plea to Tanzania’s government to start publishing data on the country’s coronavirus cases.
“This situation remains very concerning,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Others have gone further and asked the question, is President Magufuli “Africa’s denialist in chief” and asked if he is “more dangerous than COVID-19”.
April 29, 2020, was the last day Tanzanian authorities released COVID-19 infection data.
And yet last month, Denmark said two of its citizens who had visited Tanzania arrived back with the souvenir of a new, more transmissible, South African variety of the virus.
On the contrary, Mr Magufuli has claimed people arriving in Tanzania are “importing a new weird corona”.
His government hasn’t denied COVID-19 exists; indeed several members of his own family are said to have contracted the disease and subsequently recovered.
But Mr Magufuli has consistently downplayed its threat to Tanzania.
He has poured cold water on the effectiveness of tests and at one point claimed a papaya, quail and goat all had traces of COVID-19 on them.
To ensure coronavirus doesn’t take a foothold in the country, Mr Magufuli has promoted a two-pronged approach – herbal remedies and a staunch belief in God.
“The corona disease has been eliminated thanks to God,” he told worshippers in the capital Dodoma in June 2020, reported the BBC.
It’s a claim he has repeated often.
“I believe, and I’m certain that many Tanzanians believe, that the corona disease has been eliminated by God,” he said just last week.
SMOOTHIES AND STEAM TO CURE COVID
Earlier this month, the Tanzanian Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima held a bizarre press conference where she offered up a vegetable smoothie made from onions, garlic and ginger and herbal steam inhalation as effective methods to combat coronavirus.
“The coronavirus has no place in our country. We will effectively kill the virus by steam inhalation, and eating fruits and vegetables,” Local Governments Minister Suleiman Jafo said.
There is no scientific evidence that fruit drinks or steam can combat the virus.
Waziri wa Afya, Dk. Dorothy Gwajima na naibu wake, Dk. Godwin Mollel, wakinywa dawa ya asili pamoja na kujifukiza mbele ya waandishi wa habari jijini Dodoma Jumatatu 01 Februari 2021, wamewahamasisha wananchi kutumia tiba mbadala ili kukabiliana na magonjwa mbalimbali. pic.twitter.com/oOklD2qN94— Haki Ngowi (@Hakingowi) February 1, 2021
As for vaccination, Mr Magufuli has rubbished them.
“If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, he should have found a vaccination for AIDS, cancer and TB by now”.
Yet, on the teeming streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s former capital and largest city, locals fear COVID-19 has already taken hold.
Respiratory illnesses are up and the Catholic Church has said they are seeing more funerals.
“We were used to having one or two requiem masses per week in urban parishes, but now we have daily masses. Something is definitely amiss,” secretary of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference, Father Charles Kitima, told the BBC.
AFRICA’S DENIALIST IN CHIEF
This week, journal Foreign Policy lambasted Mr Magufuli as “Africa’s denialist in chief”.
“Even as hospitals fill up and funerals proliferate, Magufuli and his government have continued to behave as if the country has been untouched by the pandemic,” wrote Lynsey Chutel.
“When the government has broken its silence, it has arguably been as dangerous as the virus itself.”
The government’s hocking of smoothies and steam was an “embarrassing display”. The health of Tanzanians was being sacrificed so the leader could position himself as a “champion against Western imperialism” and “entrench his increasingly authoritarian regime”.
“Replacing policy with a cult of personality … his style of governance is likely costing thousands of Tanzanian lives,” Chutel wrote.
Paris-based magazine Africa Report spoke to a doctor at one Tanzanian hospital who said the government’s intransigence was putting lives at risk.
“We are pressured by the authorities not to attend to people who have coronavirus symptoms rather than treating them for pneumonia and lung infections. As doctors, we are in danger because we are not even getting personal protective equipment.
“The government has to change its perception and take this pandemic seriously.”
The health ministry has denied it stops people being treated for COVID-19.
But now the virus appears to be stalking the corridors of power.
Last week, Seif Sharif Hamad, the vice president of Tanzania’s semi-autonomous island province of Zanzibar, died. The ACT-Wazalendo party, of which Mr Hamad belonged, openly stated he had coronavirus.
Within hours, civil service head John Kijazi also died. It is suspected that was also due to COVID-19.
WHO chief Dr Tedros passed on his condolences to Tanzania’s government over the deaths, but said the country’s leaders needed to acknowledge COVID-19 and prepare for vaccinations.
“The WHO is yet to receive any information regarding what measures Tanzania is taking to respond to the pandemic,” he said.
“This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data.”
The government may finally be awakening from its pandemic slumber. But only by a touch.
At Mr Hamad’s funeral, Mr Magufuli urged mourners to engage in three days of prayer for a “respiratory” illness. COVID-19 wasn’t mentioned, however.
“When this respiratory disease erupted last year, we won because we put God first and took other measures. I’m sure we will win again if we do so this time around,” he said.
Masks were not banned, he insisted, but were not for him.
“I put God first and that is why I do not wear a mask.”
Mr Magufuli has still not put a date on when Tanzania will start releasing data on coronavirus cases and deaths.
Perhaps, because to do so would be to admit that the strategy of smoothies and steam had failed. And that God had not answered all his many prayers.
Originally published as Sinister truth of nation’s ‘COVID-free’ claim