DODOMA, Tanzania — Fifty truck drivers coming into Kenya from Tanzania tested positive for COVID–19 in one day during the month of May. As a result, Kenya closed its border with Tanzania starting May 16, except for cargo traffic. April 29, was the last time official data was released on the number of cases in the country. Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, says the country stopped releasing the number of positive cases daily because they were creating panic. So, what’s really going on with COVID–19 in Tanzania?
Magufuli’s administration has been criticized since his election for enacting oppressive legislation and suppressing freedom of speech. Citizens have stated that Magufuli’s administration practices are affecting the release of new developments related to COVID–19 in Tanzania. There have been reports of the Tanzanian Government arresting people for speaking out about the pandemic.
According to The Guardian, opposition politicians say they are conducting their own research which currently suggests there have been “between 16,000 to 20,000 cases” of COVID–19 in Tanzania and more than 400 deaths. Tanzanians have reported witnessing government officers performing night burials. Al Jazeera reported that retired judge Mussa Kwikima tested positive for COVID–19; however, the death certificate states the cause of death as “natural.”
The U.S. Embassy in Tanzania has issued its own health alerts in regard to COVID–19 in Tanzania. On May 13, a health alert stated “Despite limited official reports, all evidence points to exponential growth of the epidemic in Dar and other locations in Tanzania”. The alert advised U.S. government personnel and their families to stay in their homes except for “essential activities.”
What the Government Claims
The president’s reasoning behind remaining open during the pandemic and not adopting social distancing measures is the economy. He expressed that he worries stricter measures would lead to starvation. Magufuli was proactive when the initial cases of COVID–19 were reported in the country. He canceled schools and made attempts to work with opposition leaders. As of April 11, the government had “suspended all international scheduled passenger planes” to the country.
However, the president expressed his concerns regarding the accuracy of the COVID–19 tests being used in Tanzania. Magufuli said he sent goat and papaya samples to Tanzania’s National Laboratory, labeled with human names. He claimes both samples came back positive for COVID–19.
A government spokesperson for Tanzania, Hassan Abbas, said that health officials in Tanzania have been working with experts, including WHO, and have adopted measures to inhibit the transmission of the disease. He stated, “it is unfortunate that COVID–19 has come up with lots of misinformation, propaganda and false news”. He also said that successfully covering up an outbreak of this magnitude would not be possible. Furthermore, he “dismissed the reports that hospitals were overwhelmed.” Both Magufuli and Abbas have noted that certain hospitals in the country that can hold large numbers of patients have experienced significant decreases in the number of patients requiring care.
The Current Status of Life During COVID–19 in Tanzania
The president has continued to encourage Tanzanians to continue socializing and operating normally against the advice from WHO. Senior officials at WHO have made multiple attempts to gain permission to offer the country assistance through the pandemic. Though other gatherings were canceled due to the virus, Magufuli has decided to keep restaurants and churches open. He encouraged citizens to attend church services during Lent. By the end of May, the government began allowing International flights as well as colleges and sports events.
As of June 8, Maguguli claimed that Tanzania was completely free of COVID-19. The actual status of COVID-19 in Tanzania is unknown for the present. April 29 was the last day the government released official data. At that time, there were 509 cases and 21 deaths. Organizations like WHO have tried offering support to the country, but to no avail.
– Araceli Mercer