Tanzania told to resume publishing COVID data

Under its late leader John Magufuli, who downplayed the pandemic and shunned masks for the healing power of prayer, Tanzania stopped releasing COVID-19 data in April 2020 when it last showed 509 infections and 16 fatalities.

In this file photo taken on April 16, 2020, a man washes his hands with chlorinated water at the Mabibo market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The late Tanzanian President John Magufuli then called on citizens to turn to God and to keep the economy turning, but as coronavirus cases kept going up, calls were rising for the country to take stronger action. Picture: Ericky Boniphace / AFP

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania - Tanzania's new coronavirus taskforce recommended on Monday that the government resume publishing figures about the disease's spread in the COVID-sceptic country, some 13 months after it stopped providing such data.

Under its late leader John Magufuli, who downplayed the pandemic and shunned masks for the healing power of prayer, Tanzania stopped releasing COVID-19 data in April 2020 when it last showed 509 infections and 16 fatalities.

But since Magufuli's death earlier this year, his successor Samia Suluhu Hassan has taken a different approach, creating an expert taskforce to advise her government about how to best proceed with managing the pandemic.

Their list of policy recommendations was formally presented to Hassan, who unlike her predecessor has taken to wearing a mask at public functions.

"The government should provide accurate statistics on COVID-19 to the public and to the World Health Organization for the citizens to get correct information about the disease, as well as respecting international agreements," the taskforce said.

It said Tanzania had endured two serious waves of the disease and faced a possible third, and advised the government to offer WHO-approved vaccines to vulnerable citizens who wish to be innoculated.

Magufuli, who was elected for a second term in late 2020, spent the better part of the pandemic playing down the virus, saying a goat and a papaya had tested positive and promoting alternative medicines while rubbishing vaccines.

But as cases soared earlier this year and senior officials were revealed to have died from the disease, the late president conceded the virus was still circulating.

The government said Magufuli, nicknamed the "Bulldozer" for his uncompromising leadership style, died of a heart condition in late March after a mysterious three-week absence.

His political opponents insisted he had coronavirus.

Since his deputy Hassan took the oath of office, Tanzania has suspended flights from India and imposed restrictions on visitors, citing concern about new variants of the disease.

All travellers entering Tanzania must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, while those arriving from COVID hotspots or countries with new variants may face additional testing or mandatory quarantine.

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