Secretive’ Response to Virus in Tanzania Prompts Opposition’s Ire

By Fumbuka Ng’Wanakilala April 30, 2020, 4:57 PM GMT+1 Leader of main opposition party questions government response Prominent lawyer is among several people arrested this week

A security officer dispenses chlorinated water to a passenger at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a few hours after the government announces the first case of the covid-19 in the country on March 16, 2020. – Tanzania and Somalia on March 16 became the latest East African countries to confirm their first cases of coronavirus, as neighbouring countries shuttered borders and schools as fears of contagion rose. A 46-year-old Tanzanian woman tested positive for the illness after returning from Belgium on March 15, where she had been staying with a relative sick with coronavirus. (Photo by Ericky BONIPHACE / AFP) (Photo by ERICKY BONIPHACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Tanzania’s opposition accused the government of not being transparent in the way it’s handling the coronavirus pandemic as a recent surge of deaths is fueling fears the outbreak is wider than reported.

The government should “tell the people the truth on the medical and economic impacts of the virus in Tanzania,” said Freeman Mbowe, chairman of the main opposition Chadema party. “Why the secrecy?” He also urged the government to implement an economic stimulus package, citing other African countries that have done so.

Criticism of President John Magufuli’s approach to the pandemic is mounting after the number of cases jumped to 480, including 16 deaths, in the space of a month. Magufuli is one of few African leaders to have shied away from movement restrictions, saying they will devastate the economy and arguing that God will protect Tanzanians from the virus.

The recent deaths of two members of Parliament and a district commissioner whose funerals few people were allowed to attend have given rise to speculation about the extent of the outbreak, and videos and photos of graveyards full of fresh graves and new coffins are circulating on social media. The government says the politicians’ deaths aren’t linked to the virus.

‘Bad Situation’

“Tanzania took some time to implement” measures to contain the spread of the virus, Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, said Thursday. “While schools were closed, places of worship were kept open so the gathering of people continued to happen in closed spaces, including in shopping areas and in markets.”

At the same time, police this week arrested several people for speaking about the outbreak without government authorization — an offense in the East African nation, which has been accused of clamping down on critics since Magufuli came to power in 2015. Magufuli has rejected the allegations.

Among those arrested was Albert Msando, a prominent lawyer based in the tourist city of Arusha, for saying that Tanzania is “in a bad situation,” according to the city’s acting police chief, Koka Moita.

Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said on Wednesday that the “fear-mongering” should stop. “We forget that there are other deadly diseases out there such as malaria, blood pressure, diabetes and AIDS,” he said.

It’s not the first time the country is being accused of withholding information about an epidemic. In September, Tanzania summoned the WHO’s country representative for talks after the global body said authorities were giving incomplete information about possible Ebola cases.

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