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Tanzania Coronavirus Update |

Coronavirus-COVID-19 Updates in Tanzania

The government said yesterday that it is finalizing a Covid-19 certification plan for international travellers requiring them to prove that they are coronavirus-free.

This comes at a time when countries are opening their skies – with some of them demanding Covid-19 clearance from travellers. This week, Dubai issued directives to persons travelling to that city from ten countries – including Tanzania -requiring them to produce clearance certificates that they are coronavirus-free.

Other countries on the list are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, as well as some US cities and states
These are Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, while the states are as California, Florida and Texas.

Speaking to The Citizen yesterday, Tanzania’s Chief Medical Officer, Abel Makubi, said the government is already working to establish proper travelling guidelines post-COVID-3.9.

“The Health ministry’s permanent secretary will make a public announcement to unveil the procedures that must be followed by Tanzanian travellers in order to get the clearance certificates,” he said on the ‘phone.

Noting that such certificates are routinely issued to cross-border truck crews after undergoing screening, Prof Makubi said “Once they arrive at the borders, they produce copies of certificates confirming their health status before being allowed to enter another country,” he elaborated.

Tanzania lifts its international travel ban, while domestic social distancing regulations remain in place.

1. Passengers are subject to medical screening upon arrival.

2. Airline crew are subject to medical screening upon arrival and will be isolated if they are suspected of Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

3. Airline crew arriving in Zanzibar (ZNZ) will be quarantined at the airline’s designated hotels.

4. A completed “Health Form” must be presented to the Ministry of Health personnel upon arrival.

Can I travel to Tanzania?

Tanzania has lifted its international travel restrictions and is now open for commercial flights.

Do I need to go into quarantine when arriving in Tanzania?

Only travellers showing symptoms will be required to go into quarantine unless they have proof of a negative test.

Are COVID-19 tests required to travel to Tanzania?

A negative test result is required to enter Tanzania only for those showing symptoms.

Is public transportation open in Tanzania?

Public transportation in Tanzania is operating.

Are the restaurants and bars open in Tanzania?

Most restaurants, cafes and bars are closed, however, some restaurants are open for takeout.

Are businesses and attractions open in Tanzania?

Non-essential businesses and attractions in Tanzania remain closed.

Do I need to wear a face mask in Tanzania?

Wearing face masks in Tanzania is recommended.

Tanzania has lifted flight restrictions and quarantine for travellers from abroad in an effort to revive tourism. We’ll being you more on this from our regional correspondent.

Tanzania’s move to reopen the country to tourism has been welcomed by many in the industry.  However, some tour operators worry that the government’s lack of candour on the extent of COVID-19 infections will keep foreign tourists away.

International flights and parks were closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, bringing foreign tourism to a halt.

Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park which attracted around 50,000 tourists last year, about 40 per cent of them foreigners is seeing visitors slowly return after the government in May allowed flights and tourism to resume. However, most of those visitors are locals.

“We come to Mikumi to … refresh from the quarantine,” said Yaasir El-Haaq, a Tanzanian tourist. “Just to have a bit of fresh air so we come here for a weekend.”

President John Magufuli in May declared Tanzania had defeated the virus — a claim that health experts and the country’s neighbours dismiss.

Dozens of Tanzanian truckers have since tested positive for COVID-19 at Kenya’s border, while Tanzania has refused to release coronavirus infection figures since April.

Nonetheless, Tanzanian authorities say this is the right time to open up for tourists.

Minister of Natural Resources & Tourism Hamis Kigwangalla says his ministry is observing all the preventive measures.

In Tanzania, “the number of cases, hospitalization, and death have completely (been) going down over the past few weeks,” he said. “And … we have put in place all the necessary measures for prevention and control of the spread of COVID-19 in the country.”

But not everyone in Tanzania’s tourism industry is convinced. Some say the government’s lack of honesty with coronavirus infection numbers could keep visitors away.

The tourism industry accounts for about 17 per cent of Tanzania’s gross domestic product. While opening to tourists could support the economy, how Tanzania handles the pandemic could have a much longer-term effect.

On Sunday, June 7, officials in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar eased measures restricting international travel to the island following a two-month suspension implemented as a precaution to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Arrivals must have proof of valid international health-insurance, wear face masks at all times, and observe social distancing measures during their stay. Arrivals are subject to temperature checks at their point of entry.

Tanzanian authorities previously lifted restrictions on international travellers in mid-May. All scheduled and unscheduled flights are free to arrive and depart and the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for those arriving into the country has been removed. Only those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 will be placed in quarantine unless they have proof of a negative test.

Social distancing measures remain in place, including a ban on public gatherings, the closure of schools, and the suspension of sporting events. The majority of bars, restaurants, and hotels have closed voluntarily, although many restaurants are offering takeaway services.

As of Monday, June 8, Tanzania has recorded 509 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 21 associated deaths.

Advice

Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travellers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travellers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.

To reduce the risk of transmission, travellers are advised to abide by the following measures:

  • Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
  • When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
  • If experiencing a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or any other symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness, including pneumonia, call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to prevent the potential spread of the disease.

Due to an ongoing outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19) that can be spread from person-to-person globally and given the fact that cases of COVID-19 have been reported and confirmed in the United Republic of Tanzania, the Government of Tanzania has instituted additional travel measures to limit the spread of the virus to the general public as of 23rd March 2020.

In light of the above consideration, all travellers to the United Republic of Tanzania are strongly advised to adhere to the following instructions:

  • All travellers whether foreigners or returning residents arriving from COVID-19 most affected countries will be subjected to mandatory isolation for 14 days at their own cost at designated facilities identified by the Government.
  • Passengers should fill in Health Surveillance Form in the plane, or any other transport means and submit them to Port Health Authorities upon arrival.
  • All travellers will be subjected to an intensive screening and where necessary COVID-19 rapid testing.
  • All travellers will then be informed of the designated isolation facilities, costs and arrangements in place and access to those facilities.
  • After 14 days quarantine, passengers who have not developed symptoms of COVID-19 may leave the facilities and will be required to register personal information for future possible tracking purpose.
  • All people residing in Tanzania are advised to avoid non-essential travels to COVID-19 affected countries.
  • In case of any medical emergency while in the United Republic of Tanzania, please call the Health Emergency Number 199.

NB: This Travel Advisory notice will be updated as the situation evolves and more information on the outbreak becomes available.

No lockdown in Tanzania

Recently, Magufuli rubbished lockdown measures being undertaken in several African nations to contain the deadly virus.

Unlike other East African countries, Tanzania did not impose a lockdown or night curfews to curb the virus. Instead, it urged its citizens to observe health guidelines and protocols wearing masks, washing hands regularly and practising social distancing as they go on with their normal lives.

But with the global COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across nations around the world, the Tanzanian authorities have come under pressure from critics and the international community for the lukewarm response to the global pandemic, with the World Health Organization reported having chided Tanzania for its ongoing lack of cooperation and transparency in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The US Embassy in Dar es Salaam said it was concerned over unreported and exponential growth of COVID-19 cases in the country. Last week, the United Kingdom announced plans to use a special flight to evacuate its citizens stranded in the East African country and said it expected high demand for the seats.

In Tanzania, some 509 persons have officially been confirmed to have the virus, with 21 deaths.

Governments and health authorities around the world are racing against time to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Tanzania has lifted flight restrictions and quarantine for travellers from abroad in an effort to revive tourism.

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli said on Sunday he plans to re-open universities and allow the resumption of sports and international flights if the decline in new coronavirus infections continues.

The Tanzanian government closed schools, stopped international flights and banned large gatherings but much of the regular economic activity has continued and religious services have been allowed to continue unlike neighbours like Rwanda and Uganda which imposed total lockdowns.

Magufuli, who has questioned the quality of COVID-19 test kits and at one time asked citizens to pray away the virus, said activities could resume in the coming days.

“If the trend I am seeing continues in the coming week, I plan to open up universities so students can continue with their education,” Magufuli said while speaking at a church service in northwest Tanzania.

“I am also planning as a nation to allow sports to continue because sports is part of entertainment for Tanzanians.”

Magufuli said hospitals in the country showed a growing trend of recoveries. Without giving specific dates, he said one hospital in Dar es Salaam had 198 patients but was now only treating 12 cases.

One of his children had tested positive for the virus but recovered after self-isolating, he said.

Magufuli said he refused to impose a lockdown as the move would have seriously damaged the economy and led to job losses.

“It (lockdown) was a bizarre guideline…we have embarked on a lot of projects which would have grounded to a halt,” he said.

Tanzania has faced criticism from international health authorities including the World Health Organization (WHO) for being slow in imposing social distancing measures and lacking transparency in its approach to the pandemic.

Unlike most other African countries the government has gone for days without publicly releasing their COVID-19 updates.

There are 509 confirmed cases and 21 deaths, according to WHO data.

On Wednesday, the United States warned that the commercial capital Dar es Salaam was experiencing an “exponential” growth of COVID-19 infections and claimed that some hospitals in the city were being overwhelmed by patients.

Late on Saturday Magufuli removed deputy health minister Faustine Ndugulile, without providing an explanation. The move follows the suspension of the head of the country’s national laboratory after Magufuli questioned the COVID-19 test kits.

Magufuli said that some unspecified airlines had secured full bookings of tourists planning to visit Tanzania and that when those tourists arrive they would not be required to enter mandatory quarantine but would have their temperature checked.

“If they have no signs of corona, let them go see the animals,” he said.

The government revels in its status as an outlier among East African responses to coronavirus, but its actions to restrict freedom of expression, opposition and access to information continue to proliferate.

Tanzania’s COVID-19 containment measures have been markedly less strict than many neighbouring states, where lockdowns and travel restrictions have largely become the norm. Despite schools and universities being closed, a ban on mass public gatherings imposed, and citizens encouraged not to leave home for non-essential purposes, reports indicate daily life for the majority of working citizens has been minimally affected.

Government officials have emphasised the risk of starvation brought by lockdowns and the need to protect economic stability, with the deputy minister of health noting that ‘when you go for a total lockdown it means some will instead die of hunger.’

Although such concerns about the impact of containment measures on food security and the informal economy are widely shared across Sub-Saharan Africa, Tanzania’s credibility is undermined by poorly judged and reckless public statements, notably from the presidency.

Ahead of the Easter weekend, President Magufuli repeatedly urged the public to congregate at churches and mosques, stating the virus could not survive in the bodies of the faithful. And citizens able to self-quarantine by choice were urged to ‘get out and work’ by the regional commissioner of Dar es Salaam.

Mounting speculation about infections

Officially, Tanzania already had the most COVID-19 cases of any EAC member state at the start of May. But the reality may be even worse. While neighbouring countries provide daily updates on case numbers and have begun mass testing initiatives, Tanzania has released figures sporadically or not at all. Videos circulating on social media claiming to show secretive night burials feed mounting speculation that the true extent of infections is being deliberately obscured.

Whether or not such claims are accurate, the failure of the authorities to release regular and timely updates makes them partially complicit in this growing atmosphere of uncertainty. And, although the government frames the coronavirus response as a binary choice between public health and the economic impacts of containment, these are not the only issues at stake.

Advancing threats to civil liberties under the Magufuli administration are being thrown into even sharper relief. Countless arrests have taken place under the terms of the Statistics Act of 2015, which criminalized the collection and release of non-official statistics, although a 2019 amendment softened the restrictions following sustained international pressure.

Tanzania also dropped another six places in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, with no other country having fallen further in the rankings since 2015. The epidemic may accelerate these negative trends further and reverse hard-fought gains.

The government was swift to impose legal action against anyone deemed to be spreading misinformation about the virus, with only the Ministry of Health, the prime minister and the president authorised to share details. A series of crackdowns then followed, with harsh sanctions imposed on media coverage, and allegations of journalists being arrested.

Tanzania also decided to keep its land and water borders open with no formal restriction on internal movement between regions. President Magufuli justified the decision as the need for a lifeline for landlocked countries in the region. International passenger flights continued until April 12, more than two weeks after Kenya and Uganda suspended theirs, and then reopened on May 18. Thus far arriving travellers have been expected to self-quarantine for 14 days, but in the face of prohibitive private accommodation costs, and with minimal enforcement, this rule appears to have been widely flouted and may now be dropped entirely to encourage tourism to resume.

Tanzania’s parliament is certainly unlikely to hold the government to account as opposition parties are boycotting the National Assembly after an unnamed MP tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-April and three MPs subsequently died of undisclosed causes within an 11-day period. Essential parliamentary committees and activities should be moved online where possible and secure to do so, to ensure crisis decision-making does not go entirely unchecked.

None of this is anything new. Poor government communication was a feature of Tanzania’s response to the 2018 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the World Health Organization (WHO) even issued a rare public rebuke of the Tanzanian government over its failure to provide official reports on suspected Ebola cases.

Now, as then, a lack of transparency does not only mask the scale and scope of the crisis faced, but also presents a serious barrier to international support. With general elections set to go ahead in October, government intimidation and secrecy pose an existential threat to the integrity of democracy, and will be the subject of renewed scrutiny over the coming months. But Tanzania’s international partners must not let rising case numbers, or food security concerns, entirely obscure attacks on civil liberties carried out under the cover of the epidemic.

President says decision taken after a decline in virus cases.

Tanzania will reopen universities and other institutions of higher learning starting on 1 June, the clearest indication that the East African nation of about 60 million people is easing the country’s comparatively mild restrictions imposed to contain the widespread outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision, amid warnings from the World Health Organization and the international community, follows President John Magufuli’s recent declaration that there was a decline in COVID-19 cases in the country.

“With the fall in COVID-19 cases, we have decided that universities should reopen on June 1,” President Magufuli said on 21 May, according to The Citizen newspaper.

Officials said the reopening of primary and secondary schools would be delayed.

Meanwhile the country’s Higher Education Students’ Loans Board announced on 21 May it had disbursed loans to university students amounting to US$28 million to cater for students’ meals and accommodation for the third quarter of the remaining academic year.

“The education loans will be paid out to the beneficiaries in their respective universities by May 28,” the board said in a statement.

At least 132,119 students drawn from 70 higher education institutions will benefit from the loans scheme in the 2019-20 academic year, the statement said.

Tanzanian authorities ordered a nationwide shutdown of universities and colleges on 18 March as a government measure to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

UNESCO has launched a communication campaign in reinforcement to UN and national efforts against the coronavirus in partnership with @ElimikaWikiendi, a popular Kiswahili online social media platform in Tanzania and Eastern Africa for public education in development.

UNESCO outreach and interventions aim to support solidarity, counter misinformation, hate speech and myths, tackle racism, promote resources for education and distance learning, protection of journalists, and support quality, gender-responsive and accurate programming by media, particularly the community radios.

In preventing the spread of the pandemic, access to quality, gender-responsive and accurate information is key to dispel myths, curb the spread of fear and ensure that the public has the facts to keep themselves and others safe from acquiring and/or spreading the disease. Media can also play a key role in curtailing hate speech and racism at this time. In Tanzania, reports from foreigners have shown experiences of name-calling on the streets and the general fear of contracting the disease from foreigners is noticeable. Public information on health and sanitation is imperative at this time, particularly to rural and hard to reach communities mainly reached by community radios, which UNESCO supports.

On 17 March, the government banned all public gatherings and closed schools from pre-school to tertiary level. UNESCO’s experience and expertise in convening stakeholders and resources in online and distance education is extremely relevant at this time. Resources for education are relevant to teachers/ guardians/instructors on developing and conducting online learning sessions for students at all levels to ensure that learning does not stop. In immediate response to this, UNESCO has updated an online guide with links to distance apps and other resources for supplementary learning accessible on https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-emergencies/coronavirus-school-closures/solutions.

Free access to UNESCO resources for actions to support media, enhance access to information and leverage digital technologies in the fight against the corona pandemic are also available on https://en.unesco.org/themes/communication-and-information/covid19-informationsharing-counteringdisinformation/resource-center.

Policymakers, media and the public also have free access to global and national news updates on emerging trends related to COVID19.through an online monitoring platform developed by UNESCO and the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence on http://coronaviruswatch.ircai.org/.

Tanzania is among the 13 high-risk countries for COVID-19 as classified by WHO AFRO. This communications plan fulfills the requirement for a robust and multi-sector preparedness and response plan to ensure readiness and agency-led action for any outbreak. In all outreach and interventions, content, programming and broadcasting adequately incorporate and address considerations for gender and human rights unique to this crisis.

Despite the fact that the government of Tanzania, in collaboration with civil society organizations and media houses, has initiated teaching through TV programmes for classes with national exams in the near future, the realization of children’s right to education has been a huge challenge during this school closure time.

Most students in the rural areas do not have access to TVs, neither do they have a reliable source of light for their studies during the night. During the day, most of the children at homes are occupied with house chores and other livelihood activities. This does not only risk their education for standard seven and form four examinations, which decide their futures, but it also risks their health.

Water fetching

Halima (17) is a form four student at Mundemu Secondary School located at Dodoma region, central part of Tanzania. She is also a World Vision sponsored child as she noted, “studying at home gave me hard time, for my parent’s priority is house chores, and learning is like an extra thing. There is no electricity in our village. The only source of light that I can read from is candle or at times kerosene lamp.”

The Ministry of Education Science and Technology closed the school March 17th, 2020 as one of the measures to prevent and control the transmission of the novel coronavirus. This has affected the education of the most vulnerable children for by that time only a few topics were covered. Book accessibility was limited, and the studying environment at home was unconducive.

“At time of the school closure we were not even halfway through the topics that should be covered in form four. This makes it even harder. However, I mostly use exercise books to study the materials from form one to those taught in form four at the beginning of the year before the school closure,” explained Halima.

Group learning

Different from privileged students who mostly reside at town and have access to internet, TVs and electricity to study after dark, COVID- 19 and school closure has affected students in rural Tanzania like Halima, who has to go to her teacher’s house to follow along with the topics broadcast through TV programmes. At times, these programmes are not able to finish due to cut-off of power from solar panels.

“Last week, me and my colleagues went to teacher’s house to watch TV as Biology subject was reviewed. The power went off halfway through the programme,” Halima recalled. “This makes me even more miss my time at school and hostel specifically, include studying time during the night and group discussions where I get to learn from my colleagues.”

Teachers have been relentless in supporting their students, ensuring that they get good grades on their examination later this year. They not only allowed them to study at their places, but also have initiated the programme of printing and disseminating of tests where students get to measure their ability and how far have they learnt.

“As teachers, we weekly prepare tests for students and deliver them at village executive officer’s office, where to minimize population parents collect them for their children and later on send children’s response back for review. This enables them to assess themselves and identify subjects that need more effort for better performance on the last exam,” said Reagan Riwa, academic master and English subject teacher at Mundemu Secondary School.

Ministry of education has issued the guideline for school operations with the presence of COVID- 19. Also, university, colleges and advanced level secondary school students (form six) have opened while ordinary level and primary schools have been issued an announcement to start preparing themselves for an opening.

“As universities and colleges open, we hope for the reopening soon to continue with the studies as we are protecting ourselves. My dream is to become a nurse, and I would love to operate in the villages so that I can be able to serve mothers and children and also educating youth on their health through peers group. With form four examination being a pathway to my dream, I am studying very hard regardless of the circumstances to ensure I achieve my dream,” said Halima with a smile on her face indicating determination and courage.

The Ministry of Health has issued a set of rules to guide the safe reopening of academic institutions across the country – schools academies and universities. The resumption takes effect on Monday June 1.

School leadership, academies and educational institutions should encourage students, teachers and their staff to wear cloth face masks when they return, a May 28 statement read in part.

Authorities are to ensure soap and water handwashing stations as well as adequate supplies of other sanitation supplies as towels and toiletries.

Spacing is another requirement that they are tasked to implement. Students with signs of the virus must be tested whiles those that have contracted it must stay away till their situation improves. Universities that were used as quarantine centres are to be disinfected 72-hours to reopening.

Tanzania did not close land borders except for airspace at the heat of the virus spread. The government did not implement a lockdown or a curfew. Official stats of the virus have not been released since late April.

It is one of the first countries in the region to reopen schools having earlier reopened its airspace to local and international traffic. The government’s handling of the virus has been criticized by the WHO Africa head. Whiles ‘faulty’ test kit claims have been dismissed by Africa CDC.

Total confirmed cases = 509
Total recoveries = 183
Total deaths = 21
Active cases = 305

Figures valid as of  close of day May 29, 2020

President John Pombe Magufuli has ordered that all schools across the country be reopened at the end of this month. He gave the directives during a speech at the dissolution of the 11th parliament yesterday.

The order comes weeks after universities and other institutions of learning resumed teaching and learning activities with strict guidelines.

The president said with a continuous drop in coronavirus cases, there was no need to keep schools closed. He, however, tasked members of the public to adhere to health and hygiene protocols.

Schools were shut in March due to the coronavirus outbreak. The latest order means Tanzania becomes the first in the region to order a full reopening of schools. Weeks back, international air space was opened with the government has declared victory over the virus.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa on Monday said there were 66 active coronavirus cases in the country. At the time of the last official updates, Tanzania had 509 cases with 21 deaths, 183 recoveries and 305 active cases – on 29 April.
The PM said the 66 patients were hospitalised in 10 regions and that the rest of the 16 regions did not have an active case.

Tanzania’s leader on Monday declared the East African country “COVID-19 free,” local media reported.

President John Magufuli attributed the claimed success over the worldwide pandemic to prayers and fasting that the people of Tanzania have offered to God.  However, he reportedly lauded those that were not wearing protective materials – like masks and gloves. This is despite express instructions by the World Health Organization (WHO) that people wear especially masks as a preventive measure.

“It gives me joy to be the leader of a country that puts God first, God loves Tanzania,” Jamvi TV in Tanzania reported.

“The works of the devil will always be defeated in Tanzania because Tanzanians love God and that is why even the corona has been defeated by God,” Magufuli told a Catholic congregation in the capital Dodoma.

Tanzanians on social media have lauded their president for “defeating COVID-19,” saying that this will open up the economy, leading to more jobs and business opportunities for the people of Tanzania.

But the World Health Organization has said that Tanzania is belated in releasing any data on COVID-19 infections.

In early May during an address to a church congregation, Magufuli stressed that when the neighbours are done with their lockdowns, they could still come for help with food.

“There is not going to be any such thing as lockdown in Tanzania, God will help us. We need to work hard, once the other East Africans are done with their lockdown, they will come to us, and we shall still help them with food, we will not against discriminate them.”

Tanzania has 509 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 21 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The US Embassy in Tanzania has warned that the risk of contracting coronavirus in Dar es Salaam, a major city and commercial port, and other regions are extremely high because it has not released COVID-19 data in several weeks.

Kenya closed its borders with Tanzania and Somalia due to rising cases of imported COVID-19 cases.

The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “we continue to remain hopeful” that Tanzania will cooperate by sharing its COVID-19 data even as the country’s president declared victory over the pandemic.

John Nkengasong says “they understand exactly what is at stake” in the East African nation, which has not updated its virus data since late April. Tanzania’s number of cases remains frozen at 509, while opposition leaders have asserted there are actually tens of thousands.

President John Magufuli at a church service on Sunday declared that “corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,” and he praised the congregation for not wearing face masks. He has warned that masks not approved by the government could be infected with the virus.

The authorities in Tanzania have not released official figures on the extent of the outbreak there since the start of May.

Schools are due to reopen on 29 June and President John Magufuli has said the virus has been largely defeated, but the lack of data has led to increasing concern over the true level of infections.

Tanzania’s neighbours, as well as international health organisations, have expressed concerns that downplaying the epidemic there could adversely impact the wider region.

Where is the data?

In mid-June, the country’s prime minister told parliament there were 66 active coronavirus cases, but provided no further details.

Apart from this announcement, the government has not been releasing any data on infections or deaths. The president has said releasing the figures was causing unnecessary panic.

Human rights activists say health workers are afraid to speak out about the extent of the crisis.

“Tanzania has always had very repressive laws against freedom of expression and the press,” says Roland Ebole, a regional researcher at Amnesty International.

“We are now seeing these laws being used in a more intensive way to target those who are speaking out, especially about Covid-19,” says Mr Ebole.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has “strongly” called on Tanzania to release its latest data on the outbreak.

The last detailed figures, published on 29 April, reported 480 cases and 21 deaths (its island territory Zanzibar later added 29 more cases in early May).

President Magufuli later provided limited data on patients with Covid-19 admitted to hospitals and health centres.

He said the number of patients in two large hospitals in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, has dropped from 228 to 18, although he didn’t give a timeframe for these figures. He also gave figures for a few other hospitals around the country.

Since then, government officials have provided some data on three occasions but in a way which makes it hard to draw comparisons.

The country’s prime minister Kassim Majaliwa late May said the number of patients in the two main hospitals in Dar es Salaam had dropped to only two. The total national tally from the hospitals he mentioned was 32.

The country’s health minister Ummy Mwalimu early June told a gathering in the coastal region of Tanga that the two main hospitals treating coronavirus patients in the country only had four patients.

She mentioned other regions that had no cases but didn’t give the total number nationally or say whether more deaths had been reported.

“Unless we have a full reporting, in the true spirit of good public health practice, it is difficult to ascertain and validate that,” Africa CDC head John Nkengasong told the BBC.

In May, the US embassy in Tanzania issued an alert warning that many hospitals in the city had been “overwhelmed” in recent weeks.

“The risk of contracting Covid-19 in Dar es Salaam is extremely high. Despite limited official reports, all evidence points to exponential growth of the epidemic in Dar and other locations in Tanzania,” the alert said.

The government dismissed the warning and summoned the US envoy.

In the most recent alert, the embassy warns that “given the presumed ongoing community transmission in Dar es Salaam and other locations in Tanzania, the risk of contracting Covid-19 remains high.”

Tanzania’s neighbours increasingly concerned

The transmission of the virus across Tanzania’s borders is of particular concern to its neighbours.

These routes are heavily used for transporting goods across the region and the fear is that lorry drivers and other travellers are spreading the virus.

Testing is being carried out on people travelling out of Tanzania and into Kenya, Zambia and Uganda (and in some cases being sent back if they’re positive).

Zambia’s Nakonde district, which is just south of the border with Tanzania, has experienced by far the most cases in the country, higher than the country’s capital, Lusaka.

There is a major trading route that passes through this region, delivering goods from Tanzania’s ports into Zambia, which is landlocked.

There is a similar situation in Kenya – officials are testing lorry drivers before they are allowed into the country.

In May, more than 100 people arriving from Tanzania tested positive for coronavirus and were sent back.

Authorities in the country have been lax in issuing updates on the number of coronavirus infections, while President John Magufuli has stubbornly refused to introduce stringent measures to slow the spread of the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has chided Tanzania for its ongoing lack of cooperation and transparency in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

After four days of silence, officials released its latest update on the number of COVID-19 infections on Wednesday. Almost all African countries release daily reports, including their current number of infections, fatalities and recoveries.

In the update, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said the country of 56 million people had now recorded 480 cases of COVID-19 and 16 deaths. The new tally represents a 69% jump in just five days.

Majaliwa offered no explanation for the government’s silence on coronavirus numbers, though he cautioned against the “tendency of some people to issue false statistics which leads to unnecessary unrest in society.”

Coronavirus cases have been relatively low across Africa compared to Europe and the US. However, the continent has a much lower capacity for testing, with approximately 500 tests carried out per one million people.

Tanzania recorded its first coronavirus case on March 16. President John Magufuli has been increasingly criticized at home and abroad for his response to the pandemic after the number of confirmed cases rose sharply within a month.

Magufuli urges people to keep working

In his International Workers’ Day message on Friday, Magufuli urged Tanzanians to continue working, saying coronavirus should not stop workers from serving society — though he added that workers should follow the guidelines issued by health officials.

Magufuli has rejected the need to restrict movement of citizens, claiming stringent social isolation measures would severely damage the economy. While large public gatherings have been banned and schools and universities have been closed, markets remains open. Magufuli has also encouraged Tanzanians to gather and pray in churches and mosques claiming the coronavirus cannot harm the bodies of the faithful.

“You haven’t seen me fearing to take communion, because corona[virus] is satanic and can’t survive in Jesus’ body. It will be destroyed,” he told worshippers in a church in the capital, Dodoma.

Daniel El-Noshokaty, the Resident Representative for Tanzania from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), told DW that Tanzanians are still trying to practice social distancing as best they can – although it’s easier for those who are able to stay at home.

“Most people are aware of the virus and most people are aware of how it spreads, so they’re trying to isolate themselves as much as they can,” he says. “But a lot of people just can’t isolate themselves because they have to go out and earn money every day.

El-Noshokaty says he hopes Magufuli will eventually follow the examples of neighboring Kenya and Uganda, who introduced lockdown measures and subsequently saw a drop in new cases.

“I hope the government will change their mind. But since the president has ruled out a lockdown and since he’s not very well known for changing his mind, I don’t think that anything will change soon.”

The United States embassy in Dar es Salaam has issued a health alert over the lack of transparency of government over the handling of COVID-19 crisis.

The Embassy’s statement comes a week after the ambassador was summoned by the foreign ministry over an earlier statement. The statement of June 2, 2020 said the risk of contracting the virus remained high.

It bemoaned how the government has yet to release updated figures since April 29 and said a number of airlines had begin bookings for flights out of the country. Airspace was opened recently as well as universities and high schools. Sporting events are also allowed to take place.

The Tanzanian government has not released aggregate numbers on COVID-19 cases or deaths since April 29. Consequently, we are unable to provide specific guidance for U.S. citizens in Tanzania.

The Department of State has issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory for COVID-19. For emergency American Citizen Services, including emergency passports, please visit our website for additional information.

Given the presumed ongoing community transmission in Dar es Salaam and other locations in Tanzania, the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains high. The Embassy has recommended that U.S. government personnel and their families reduce movement outside of their home except for essential activities and limit the number of visitors entering their home.

Healthcare facilities in Tanzania can become quickly overwhelmed in a healthcare crisis. There have been instances during the COVID-19 outbreak when hospitals in Dar es Salaam reached full capacity due to the high volume COVID-19 cases. Limited hospital capacity throughout Tanzania could result in life-threatening delays for emergency medical care.

The Government of Tanzania lifted the suspension on international flights to Tanzania and several airlines have scheduled international flights beginning June 2020.

The Tanzanian region of Arusha says Kenya is engaging in actions meant to affect its tourist potential by issuing faulty COVID-19 test results for cross-country truck drivers.

Regional commissioner Mrisho Gambo in a statement of May 20 said nineteen drivers who were declared positive by Kenya tested negative in Tanzania.

“In efforts to confirm reliability of COVID-19 test results, we took samples from 19 drivers from Tanzania who had tested and declared positive by Kenya authorities at Namanga border on Kenyan side.

“After these samples were submitted to our main national laboratory in Dar es Salaam, the results came back as negative for all these drivers from Tanzania. Arusha region is confident that this is a deliberate sabotage strategy designed by Kenya against our tourism industry in Arusha and Tanzania at large,” the statement read in part.

The commissioner noted that drivers declared “positive” were not allowed to cross the border into Tanzania or enter Kenya. He said Arusha remained committed to finding an amicable solution with Kenyan authorities.

The development comes a day after Kenya announced that over 180 foreigners had been returned to Tanzania after testing positive for the virus. Kenya has closed its side of the border due to virus spread.

Zambia also recently shut a common border with Tanzania. The town of Nakonde remains Zambia’s most infected area having recorded much more cases that the capital Lusaka.

Opposition politicians in Tanzania have accused president John Magufuli of covering up a major outbreak of Covid-19 in the east African country.

Magufuli has repeatedly played down the threat from the pandemic and refused to impose a strict lockdown as many other leaders on the continent have.

Instead the 60-year-old has encouraged the country’s 56 million inhabitants to keep working and socialising, while a key ally announced a three-day “corona party” in Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital, this weekend to give thanks to God for what he claimed was a reduction in levels of infection.

Tanzanian authorities have not released official date on infections for nearly a month, despite requests from the World Health Organization (WHO). There were 480 confirmed cases with 16 deaths on 29 April.

However, the opposition politicians say they believe there have been more than 400 deaths in Dar es Salaam and between 16,000 and 20,000 cases nationwide, according to their own ongoing research.

“The government say there are no patients in the hospitals but we know of three hospitals in Dar es Salaam where the ICU beds are all completely full,” said Zitto Kabwe, leader of the Alliance for Change and Transparency.

Many African countries have been praised for their response to the coronavirus. Though testing has been patchy and the true extent of the spread of the virus is unknown, there are still only 3,600 deaths and 120,000 confirmed cases on the continent.

Magufuli has rejected advice from the WHO on social distancing to restrict transmission of the disease, while laboratory officials were suspended earlier this month after the president said he had secret tests performed in which a papaya and a goat tested positive.

Colleges and sports events will restart next month, along with international flights.

International experts have watched developments in Tanzania with dismay. Senior officials at the WHO have made repeated requests for permission to offer extensive assistance in the country’s fight against the pandemic.

Earlier this month, the US embassy advised that “all available evidence pointed to exponential growth” of Covid-19 cases in Dar es Salaam and other locations in Tanzania”, and warned that “many hospitals … have been overwhelmed in recent weeks”.

The foreign ministry rejected the claim.

Hassan Abbas, a government spokesman, said it would be impossible to cover up an outbreak and dismissed reports that hospitals were overwhelmed, noting that one, which has room for more than 160 patients, only had 11 in it.

Magufuli cited several examples of improvement in a speech, notably at the Amana hospital in Dar es Salaam, where the number of patients reportedly dropped from 198 to 12.

But the opposition accused authorities of emptying clinics in order to counter international concern.

“The government decongested these hospitals in order to prove the US wrong … A number of patients were told to treat themselves at home. This will cause a very big problem in the next weeks,” Kabwe said.

The country’s neighbours fear that a major outbreak could spill over the country’s borders. Kenya imposed stringent testing measures on Tanzanian truck drivers after more than 50 of them tested positive for the virus in a single day.

Though schools have been closed, churches in Tanzania have remained open. A devout Catholic, Magufuli has described the Covid-19 virus as “the devil” and said it cannot survive in the body of Christ. In mid-March he ordered three days of national prayers against the disease.

The son of a peasant farmer, Magufuli faces elections to win a second term later this year. Experts describe the veteran politician, who has a doctorate in chemistry and won his nickname ‘The Bulldozer’ as a minister, as a populist who likes to fly in the face of convention.

“He’s set himself up as a firebrand leader who will do great things …. But he’s very popular and in charge of a dominant party. He’s in a fairly solid position,” said Prof Nic Cheeseman, an expert in African politics at Birmingham University.

Magufuli was praised when he came to power in 2015 for his high-profile efforts to crack down on corruption but has grown increasingly authoritarian.

“The problems with mistreatment are still continuing … There is a lot of pressure being put on the media,” said Kabwe.

Albert Msando, a lawyer, was arrested in late April after a video circulated showing him distributing masks to journalists and talking about the importance of the news media’s role in informing the public, according to the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition.

Three media organisations were fined for “transmission of false and misleading information” about the government’s response, and a newspaper had its online publishing license suspended.

Erick Kabendera, an investigative journalist spent seven months in prison on what Amnesty said were “trumped-up charges”.

“People in Tanzania cannot express themselves,” said Roland Ebole, an Amnesty International researcher based in Kenya.

The Tanzanian government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week summoned the acting US ambassador over recent advisories relating to COVID-19.

Ambassador Inmi Patterson was summoned to the Ministry where she was engaged by Permanent Secretary Colonel Wilbert Ibuge, a statement posted on the Ministry’s Twitter page disclosed.

The embassy in a May 13 advisory said the risk of virus contamination remained extremely high in Dar es Salaam and in other parts of the country.

Government said the information was untrue and could have triggered distress among Tanzanians and foreigners. Ibuge also stressed that ambassadors were free to demand factual and official information before putting same out in the public.

The statement had also pointed out that since late April no official figures had been released and also that hospitals in Dar were overwhelmed. No evidence was adduced for the claims. Days later president Magufuli declared that the country was winning the battle against the virus with God’s help.

“Hotel owners, barbers, companies and businesses are all back to work. By Sunday, everyone should be happy … our God has won (the virus fight) for us. Turn on your music, that day I have given you freedom,” these are the words of Paul Makonda, regional commissioner of Dar es Salaam.

His pronouncement is the latest in the Tanzania government’s posture towards a virus that has led to the imposition of lockdowns and enforcement of physical distancing in most African countries.

During an address to a church congregation over the weekend, President Magufuli echoed the God factor in battling the virus which he said was being defeated by the country.

“There is not going to be any such thing as lockdown in Tanzania, God will help us. We need to work hard, once the other East Africans are done with their lockdown, they will come to us, and we shall still help them with food, we will not against discriminate them.”

Tanzania’s case count has been at 509 for weeks now. No new data have been released and the government has dismissed a health alert by the US embassy about overwhelmed hospitals in the largest city, Dar es Salaam.

There has been a “sharp decline” in the number of coronavirus patients in Tanzania’s hospitals, the president said, four days after the US embassy in the country reported that many hospitals had been “overwhelmed”.

John Magufuli was speaking to an applauding church congregation when he said: “God has answered your prayers.”

In the past he has accused health officials of exaggerating the crisis.

Tanzania does not have strict lockdown measures like those in other countries.

Large public gatherings have been banned and schools have been closed but videos of night burials shared on social media have caused some to call into question the government’s approach.

The World Health Organization has also expressed concern about the government’s strategy. The authorities have been slow to reveal official data.

Despite its warning on Wednesday that the chance of contracting the virus was “extremely high”, the US embassy did not provide details backing up its claim that hospitals in the commercial hub, Dar es Salaam, were struggling to cope.

Speaking at a church service in his hometown of Chato, north-west Tanzania, President Magufuli revealed that his own child had contracted the virus but was now well and “doing push-ups”.

He said the child had made a recovery following a regimen of self-isolation, steam inhalation, and lemon and ginger juice, the BBC’s Sammy Awami reports from Tanzania.

But there is no evidence that these treatments work, doctors say, and the vast majority of people with coronavirus will recover.

Mr Magufuli did give some details of numbers over a fortnight after the last official numbers had been released.

According to the president, Dar es Salaam’s Amana Hospital, which at one point was treating 198 Covid-19 patients, today has only 12 patients with the virus. Other hospitals in Dar es Salaam have experienced similar decreases, he added.

“The way I see this trend, if the week beginning from tomorrow continues like this, I plan to open places of higher education so that our students can continue with their studies,” he said.

He added that plans to quarantine tourists could also be relaxed next month.

According to data from the African Union’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Tanzania has had 509 recorded coronavirus cases and 21 deaths.

One of the main points of discussion around the various responses to the COVID-19 pandemic is governance. Different countries have reacted to the pandemic in different ways. These differences are informed by varying styles of leadership and governance around the globe.

Countries with open and transparent governing styles have taken a more hands-on approach by engaging diverse stakeholders. Scholars who examined the COVID-19 responses in China, Japan and South Korea, for example, found that there was systematic evidence that different governance decisions led to different results.

In the case of Tanzania, I argue that COVID-19 has revealed, rather than informed, the governance style under the current administration.

Writing about India’s handling of the new coronavirus, Amartya Sen – professor of economics and 1998 economics Nobel laureate – said:

tackling a social calamity is not like fighting a war, which works best when a leader can use top-down power to order everyone to do what the leader wants — with no need for consultation.

In line with this thinking, being transparent and engaging diverse groups, including both loyalists and critics, is crucial for governments in the fight against the virus.

In Tanzania, President John Magufuli has taken the opposite view. He has framed COVID-19 as a war and not a health calamity requiring scientific consultation. As a result the handling of the pandemic has been at the whim of the president.

Since Magufuli expressed his doubts on the professionalism of the national laboratory, no more updates on COVID-19 have been made. It’s no longer easy to tell if data being released by the government is grounded in science, or whether it is simply that the president wants lower figures reported.

Magufuli’s COVID-19 response is typical. He is a president who has always taken an idiosyncratic view of leadership. Since his election in 2015, he has acted unilaterally. This has divided the country, while consolidating power in the presidency. Even his own ruling party has become a casualty of his autocratic style of leadership.

Idiosyncratic response to COVID-19

Magufuli has downplayed the pandemic’s threat and encouraged the use of local and home remedies such as drinking ginger and lemon tea, and steam therapy as a way to prevent infection.

He publicly questioned the efficacy of the COVID-19 tests used in Tanzania’s laboratories. He then promised to send a plane to collect Madagascar’s traditional remedy for the virus.

This statement marked the end of the health minister’s daily updates on the country’s COVID-19 response. It was followed by a presidential proclamation that that God was answering the prayers of Tanzanians against the pandemic.

The president then appointed a new deputy health minister, probably because the previous one had questioned the use of steaming therapy to manage the virus.

Two weeks earlier, the president had appointed a new Constitutional and Legal Affairs minister, following the sudden death of his predecessor. The new minister was given the unusual task of investigating the activities of the national laboratory and its handling of COVID-19 testing.

Both men had previously supported Magufuli’s response to the pandemic.

These appointments give the real impression that loyalty to the president is very important in Tanzania. Dissenters are not tolerated. It’s no surprise that the official leader of opposition in parliament was rebuffed when he extended an offer to work with the government to fight the virus.

Civil society organisations have also been sidelined. But faith-based organisations have been won over by the government’s decision to keep places of worship open. Religion has been framed as a more appropriate response to COVID-19 than science.

History of intransigence and excesses

In 2017, Magufuli banned pregnant school girls from continuing school despite calls to the contrary. As a result the World Bank delayed the release of a $500 million education loan.

Eventually, Magufuli bowed to the pressure and lifted the ban.

Another example of Magufuli’s intransigence was his reaction to a planned countrywide protest organised by the opposition Chadema party. The police threatened to use force to stop citizens from participating. Eventually, the opposition called off the demonstration after faith leaders and civil society called for dialogue.

To date, there has not been any dialogue between the government and Chadema.

The absence of dialogue, and discrimination against Chadema and other opposition parties, has led to further polarisation between the Magufuli administration and dissenters.

The state response to COVID-19 is well within Magufuli’s playbook. He acts unilaterally, while polarising the nation and consolidating power in the presidency. This is often to the detriment of the Chama cha Mapinduzi ruling party. Power is centralised in the executive. Party organs and members do not have the agency to hold the president to account.

Critics within the ruling party have been punished and expelled.

The executive’s autocracy has forced the opposition party to strengthen its institutions from the ground up. It now appears that Chadema is becoming a stronger party institutionally. In response, the ruling party has resorted to using force to maintain its grip on power.

To understand how Magufuli centralised power, one structural move he took in the beginning of his administration is illustrative. He removed the Regional Administration and Local Governments office from the office of the prime minister and put it in the office of the president.

The office is responsible for administering education, health, and development projects within local districts across the country.

Thus, local government matters are reported directly to the president’s office and are managed from the very core of the executive branch. This structural change has diverted revenue collection to the central government. The president has also used local government political appointees to silence dissenters.

It is apparent, therefore, that he will decide whether cases of COVID-19 in Tanzania have declined or increased, no matter what the science says.

The real fate of the country, however, is in the hands of Tanzanians. Only they can take their power back.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through Asia, Europe and North America early this year, medical experts warned that it was just a matter of time before other continents, including Africa, would start to report cases. For Tanzania, that day came on Monday 16th March 2020, when the Minister for Health, Ummy Mwalimu, reported the first case of COVID-19 in the country.

That first case, a female, had travelled from Tanzania to Belgium on 3rd March and returned on the 15th March. She took a taxi to Arusha town where she locked herself in a room to self-quarantine but later called government officials who took her for treatment. The minister said the patient was being treated in isolation and was doing fine.

The news quickly spread in the country, and normal life seemed to change overnight. In Dar-es-Salaam and other major cities, people rushed to shops to stock up on food items, drinks and other essentials.

In pharmacies, the depletion of masks and hand sanitizers was drastic. Entrepreneurs took advantage of the situation and in one night these products, which were not popularly known in the country before, hit skyrocket prices. The price of hand sanitizers, for example, rose from US$1 for a 100ml bottle to $7. A box of gloves was going for up to $20 while masks were completely out of stock.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa shut down all primary and secondary schools, colleges and other institutions of higher learning for one month to help curb the spread of the deadly virus.

Across the country, meetings and conferences have been cancelled. Almost all public building spaces now have sanitizers and buckets of chlorine-treated water and soap for washing hands.

Citizen journalism has been on the rise in the country, along with rumours and myths about COVID-19. The mainstream media’s consistency in communicating facts, figures and other key messages about the virus has helped people understand the disease better, but more is still required.

Government officials have continued to educate citizens on the virus. The Health ministry has issued a hotline number for people to call in case of symptoms, and President John Magufuli has asked Tanzanians to help stop the disease from spreading.

“All the progress we are making can be brought to a halt by this disease which is killing many people around the world,” said the President.

President Magufuli is also engaging in social distancing. When he recently met with an opposition leader, instead of the normal handshakes and hugs, the two politicians tapped their respective feet to each other, prompting others to follow suit.

To help children to learn from home, the UNIC is also sharing global learning platforms provided by UNESCO.

Economists warn that the social and economic impact of COVID-19 will be huge. Small businesses are starting to feel the heat. For example, Ms. Hassan, a food vendor, fears that the spread of the virus could kill her business.

“This disease is very bad; I am losing my customers very fast. I depend on selling food to pay my rent and feed my family. I don’t know how I will survive if people don’t come to buy because of this coronavirus,” said Ms. Hassan. She is not alone in this predicament. Many other small-scale traders across the continent are facing this uncertainty.

As Tanzanians heed the call to stay home, the more their lives continue to change. What is clear though, is the need for more factual information to curb the fear and panic, and to debunk myths about the virus.

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