WHO chief calls on Tanzania to combat COVID

NAIROBI (AFP) – The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday appealed to Tanzania to take “robust action” to combat COVID-19 in the country, where the president has long played down the virus.

President John Magufuli has claimed coronavirus has been has fended off by prayer in Tanzania, and refused to take measures to curb its spread.

But a recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has struck both members of the public and government officials. And Magufuli on Friday appeared to admit the coronavirus was circulating in his country after months of denial.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a number of Tanzanians travelling to neighbouring countries and beyond have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond,” he said.

File photo shows party members undergoing temperature checks and hands sanitising at the national congress of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party in Dodoma, Tanzania. PHOTO: AP

Tedros said he had urged Tanzania in late January to take measures against the pandemic and to prepare for vaccinations.

“Since then I have spoken with several authorities in Tanzania but WHO is yet to receive any information regarding what measures Tanzania is taking to respond to the pandemic.

“This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data.

“I also call on Tanzania to implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chains of transmission, and to prepare for vaccination.”

The country last gave case figures in April 2020, reporting 509 infections.

At the same time Magufuli revealed he had secretly had a variety of items tested for the virus – of which a papaya, a quail and a goat apparently tested positive.

Last Wednesday, the vice president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, died after his opposition party admitted he had contracted the coronavirus.

Head of the civil service John Kijazi also died last Wednesday.

The cause of death has not been revealed. But Magufuli brought up COVID-19 at his funeral.

“When this respiratory disease erupted last year, we won because we took other measures. I’m sure we will win again if we do so this time around,” he said.