Tanzania’s new president changes policy on COVID-19, media

NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) — Tanzania’s new president appears to be taking a new, scientific approach to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on Tuesday she will form a technical committee to advise her about the scope of COVID-19 infections in the country and how to respond to the pandemic.

COVID-19 is “not something we should be quiet about or refuse flatly or accept without doing a scientific examination”, Hassan said.

“We will do medical research which will tell us the scope of the problem and advise us about what the world is recommending as well as our own expertise,” she said.

Hassan, made the remarks that were broadcast live, after swearing key government officers in a hall in State House, the president’s official residence in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan. PHOTO: AP

Hassan’s comments are a dramatic switch from the policy of her predecessor, the late President John Magufuli, who was one of Africa’s leading COVID-19 deniers. He claimed in June last year that Tanzania had rid itself of COVID-19 through three days of national prayer.

He dismissed scientific approaches to prevent and treat the disease. He discouraged the use of face masks and instead promoted prayer, physical fitness and herbal remedies.

Magufuli’s government fired officials who gave other opinions and some people were arrested.

Opposition leader Tundu Lissu, in exile in Belgium, cautioned Tanzanians not applaud Hassan’s announcements just yet.

“This will be no different from the Magufuli way of doing things. It’s Magufulism without Magufuli!” Lissu said in Twitter post.

Lissu is in Belgium for a second time due to death threats following his rejection of the results of elections in October and calling for peaceful demonstrations. Magufuli won the election with 85 per cent of the vote but there were widespread accusations of rigging, ballot stuffing and that opposition party agents were denied access to the voting and counting centres.

Hassan was in her second term as vice president when Magufuli dropped out of public view at the end of February. The populist president was not seen in public for 19 days, raising speculation that he was sick with COVID-19. Hassan announced Magufuli’s death on March 17, saying it was due to heart failure.

She made history when she was sworn in as Tanzania’s first woman president on March 19.