DODOMA, 21 February 2021 – The World Health Organization (WHO) has asked Tanzania to take COVID-19 more seriously, including acknowledging it is real and sharing data on it.

The east African nation is one of only a few countries in the world to not share data, to claim that the pandemic has been defeated, and to have no plans to import COVID-19 vaccines.

Tanzania's Magufuli - Photo BBC

Tanzania’s Magufuli – Photo BBC

Tanzania last shared official data on infections, fatalities, full recoveries and deaths from the new coronavirus pandemic in May 2020.

At the time, Dodoma said it had detected 500 cases of the virus, resulting in 20 fatalities.

Even at the time, commentators had questioned the credibility of the numbers – pointing to the fact that infections were 500 round, and deaths were 20 round.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli declared the country “coronavirus free” last June.

The deaths Wednesday of Tanzania’s head of civil service, John Kijazi, and of the first vice-president of the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, have made it more difficult to deny the existence of COVID-19 in Tanzania.

Funeral for Zanzibar's First Vice President - Business Insider Africa

Funeral for Zanzibar’s First Vice President – Business Insider Africa

Hamad’s party went public with information that he tested positive for the virus and was undergoing treatment for complications linked to COVID-19.

While the government statement on the death of Kijazi did not indicate the cause of death, family members and medical personnel in the hospital where he died in Dodoma made no secrets about the cause of death.

“We extend our condolences to our Tanzanian sisters and brothers on the recent passing of a senior Tanzanian leader as well as the government’s chief secretary,” read a statement of condolence from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The WHO boss used the statement to urge Tanzania to start sharing data on the pandemic.

He called on Tanzania “to take robust action both to safeguard their own [people and protect populations” in other countries to which Tanzanian nationals have arrived only to test positive from the virus.

Following the two high profile deaths, Magufuli called for fasting and prayers to God to heal Tanzania of the virus.

To avoid the wrath of Magufuli, medical professionals and public health officials in the country have resorted to blaming coronavirus deaths on pneumonia.

While Politicians Deny Reality, Bereaved Families Endure the Grief Imposed by COVID-19 - Photo Deutsche Welle

While Politicians Deny Reality, Bereaved Families Endure COVID-19 – Photo Deutsche Welle

A month earlier, Tanzania’s minister of health had reiterated that the government had no plans to vaccinate.

Magufuli appeared to admit the existence of the virus in Tanzania during a speech Friday at the funeral ofKijazi.

The Tanzanian leader said his country defeated the virus last year and will defeat it again.

A stronger implicit admission came Sunday when Magufuli called on Tanzanians to wear masks to avoid getting infected with the virus or spreading it to others.

And even on masks, he piled on additional controversy – encouraging Tanzanians to wear locally-made masks while suggesting – without any evidence to back up his claim – that some imported masks are not safe.

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