How is Tanzania doing

Prayer alone is no longer enough. Tanzania's government admits (a little) its Covid-19 problem

60 million inhabitants, allegedly no new infections for almost a year. Tanzania was a self-declared pandemic-free zone. That could change now - also because experts warn of the consequences beyond the country.

A few days ago, Tanzania's President John Magufuli admitted that his country could have a problem with the coronavirus. The television footage shows the President in a church in the capital, Dodoma, smiling like a father and recommending wearing masks. Preferably those from local production, the quality of which is better.

Many of those present did not need the advice, they were already wearing masks. But for President Magufuli, the statement was a course correction. Tanzania's government has been claiming for almost a year that the East African state with almost 60 million inhabitants is probably the only country in the world to be spared the pandemic. At the end of April 2020, the government updated the counter for the last time, it remained at 509 infections and 21 deaths. In June, Magufuli said at a church service that Tanzania was corona-free thanks to God's help.

The Tanzanian government is concerned, among other things, with the income from the important tourism sector. The holiday island of Zanzibar is currently applying as a corona-free parallel world.

It has been maneuvering since the government announced the end of the pandemic in June 2020. The Ministry of Health recommended herbal tinctures and steam inhalations for a disease that allegedly ravaged overseas. In early February, Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima said Tanzania had no plans to seek vaccine. The president, who once had a doctorate in chemistry, had previously said that his compatriots would not be guinea pigs: “Vaccination is dangerous. If the white man could actually invent a vaccine, there would have been one against HIV long ago. "

“Let's repent,” says the president

Only recently has the government sounded more pessimistic. Last Friday, Magufuli recommended praying for three days in order to conquer unspecified "respiratory diseases". The occasion was the funeral of a party official, it was actually said that he had died of a heart attack. "Perhaps we have angered God," said Magufuli. "Let's repent."

After the president recommended wearing masks on Sunday, the Ministry of Health released a statement. It recommended eight preventive measures, in addition to wearing masks, regular hand washing and exercise. The Ministry ruled out a lockdown.

The government's adjusted tone of voice is likely to have something to do with the fact that there has been increasing evidence in recent weeks that Tanzania is not a corona-exempt country. Tanzanians reported deaths in their environment on social networks. Doctors in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa reported on Tanzanian Covid-19 patients who were treated on the other side of the border. Several prominent Tanzanian politicians died in February, including Seif Sharif Hamad, the vice-president of the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar. His party announced that he had succumbed to Covid-19.

Experts warn of new mutations

As the evidence grows, so does the criticism. The Catholic Church of all people denied Magufuli's claim that the virus had been defeated with God's help. At the end of January, the Tanzanian Bishops' Conference advised its priests to prepare for a second wave. Tanzania is not an island, it said in a letter.

Foreign countries also began to listen carefully. The USA warned against traveling to Tanzania, Great Britain put the East African country on its red list, and several countries reported that people who had traveled from Tanzania had tested positive. Health experts warned that if the Tanzanian government continues to pretend the virus doesn't exist in the country, it could affect all of Africa and beyond. If the virus spreads unchecked in Tanzania, new variants could develop more easily, for example.

Finally, the World Health Organization, which had long held back criticizing Tanzania, even issued a warning. On Saturday, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus published a notice calling on the Tanzanian government to register the new infections and share information.

A day later, Magufuli buckled, at least a little, and advised wearing masks during his address in church. It remains to be seen whether Tanzania's corona policy will fundamentally change as a result. Magufuli also said that he himself did not need a mask because he continued to trust in God.