After months of downplaying deadly disease, government officials have urged people to take precautions and wear masks.
Tanzanian opposition politicians are raising questions about the health of John Magufuli, the country’s coronavirus-sceptic president who has not been seen in public for more than a week.
The 61-year-old Magufuli insisted for months that COVID-19 had been fended off by prayer, refusing measures such as masks and lockdowns, but last month conceded it was still circulating after the vice president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar was revealed to have died of the virus.
“We’re informed when [former President Jakaya] Kikwete had prostate surgery. We’re told when [former President Benjamin] Mkapa went for hip replacement … What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?” opposition leader Tundu Lissu wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
The President’s well-being is a matter of grave public concern. We’re informed when Kikwete had prostate surgery. We’re told when Mkapa went for hip replacement. We’re not kept in the dark when Mwalimu fought leukemia. What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?
— Tundu Antiphas Lissu (@TunduALissu) March 9, 2021
Meanwhile, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported that “an African leader” from a country that has refused face masks and public health measures, had been admitted to the Nairobi Hospital.
An official at the hospital told AFP news agency “we don’t know” when asked if Magufuli had been admitted, while Kenyan government sources denied the information.
“There are things like health issues which are private but for a public leader, people need to know. We don’t want all details but at least knowing when the leader is ill or hospitalised,” the secretary-general of the opposition party Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT Wazalendo), Ado Shaibu, told AFP.
“When you make such information open, you reduce room for unnecessary panic and spread of rumours.”
Magufuli was last seen in public on February 27 at the swearing-in ceremony for the country’s secretary of state in the State House government offices in Dar-es-Salaam, the East African country’s largest city.
Tanzania’s government has yet to comment on Magufuli’s whereabouts, however, Information Minister Innocent Bashungwa on Wednesday warned media and citizens against “using rumours as source of information”.
Tanzania stopped releasing data on the coronavirus in April 2020, and in January, Magufuli said vaccines for the disease were “dangerous”.
“Vaccines are not good. If they were, then the white man would have brought vaccines for HIV/AIDS,” he said earlier this year.
Last year. he dismissed coronavirus testing kits, which he said had returned positive results on a goat and pawpaw fruit.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, last month appealed to Tanzania to take “robust action” against the outbreak after several travellers from the country tested positive.
In a surprise change in the official stance on coronavirus, Magufuli in late February said the government had not forbidden the wearing of masks and encouraged those who wanted to do so.
However, he warned against what he claimed were faulty face coverings on sale in the country, suggesting that high coronavirus-related death rates worldwide could be linked to the uptake of such products and claiming those in Tanzania’s rural areas were less likely to fall victim to the virus because they tended not to wear them.
“The government has not forbidden mask-wearing. But we have to be careful about which masks we wear. We will perish. Don’t think we’re loved so much. Economic war is bad,” Magufuli told a congregation at a church service in Dar-es-Salaam.
“These masks which we buy in the shops- we’re killing ourselves,” he argued, before advising Tanzanians to either to make the masks themselves or use those produced locally.