Suluhu seeks to end Covid mystery in TZ

By , People Daily Digital
Wednesday, April 7th, 2021 00:00 | 3 mins read
Tanzania President Samia Suluhu Hassan Photo/Courtesy

Mercy Mwai and AFP

New Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan yesterday ordered the formation of a taskforce to evaluate the Covid-19 pandemic and advice her on how to tackle the deadly disease.

In a departure from her predecessor, the late President John Magufuli who maintained that there was no Coronavirus in Tanzania, Suluhu said it was “not proper to ignore” the pandemic.

Consequently, the she also ordered an easing of restrictions on media that had been banned before she took office last month.

Suluhu mandated the Covid taskforce to advise her government, saying her administration would canvass global opinion on the pandemic and make recommendations about “remedies” and policies.

“It is not proper to ignore it. We cannot reject or accept it without any evidence from research,” she told her newly appointed permanent secretaries at a swearing-in ceremony in Dar es Salaam yesterday.

“They (experts) will tell us more about the pandemic, and advise us about what the world is proposing.

We cannot accept everything as it comes, but we also cannot isolate ourselves as an island while the world is moving in a different direction.”

Addressing the nation after swearing-in of new ministerial permanent secretaries and heads of key government institutions that she appointed during the Easter weekend, Suluhu said Tanzania needs to have a clear and understandable position on the pandemic so that it can make informed decisions.

“Tanzania needs to have its own understanding of where we stand on the issue of Covid-19,”she said.

He decision comes on the heels of a diplomatic tiff between Kenya and Tanzania emerged after the closure of Namanga and Sirare border points in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.

The Kenyan government took the step following increased cases of Corona imported from Tanzania amid regional fears that Tanzania’s casual approach to the disease was posing a health risk to her neighbours.

With the restricted cross-border movement, supply of commodities was disrupted.

Kenya imports vegetables, oil seeds, rice, wheat, textiles and clothing, hides and skins, paper and paperboard, footwear, wood, plastic and rubber, among other products from Tanzania.

Compulsory test

To further contain the spread of the disease, in early March, the government announced that all Kenyans coming back from Tanzania would be required to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine at the port of entry before being allowed in.

The in-bound citizens would also have to undergo a compulsory Coronavirus testing to be declared safe to enter the country.

Dr Francis Kuria, the director in-charge of Public Health at the Ministry of Health yesterday advised Kenyans, especially traders to avoid unnecessary travelling to Tanzania. 

Suluhu became Tanzania’s first female president last month following the death of John Magufuli, a Covid-sceptic who spent the better part of the pandemic denying it existed in his country before his sudden death at 61.

Authorities said Magufuli, nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising leadership style, died of a heart condition on March 17 after a mysterious three-week absence but his political opponents insisted he had Coronavirus. 

Suluhu has vowed to “start where Magufuli ended” and all eyes have been on potential changes to the country’s policies and openness regarding Covid-19.

Tanzania has not reported any Covid-19 data since April 2020 and few measures have been taken to curb the spread of the virus, which Magufuli said had been fended off by prayer, insisting facemasks were not needed.

“We cannot be reading about Covid in the world and when you reach sections about Tanzania, one finds gaps. I think we need to be clearer whether we accept or not,” she said.

In another policy announcement, President Suluhu ordered that officials “free” media outlets banned by her predecessor, whose administration was criticised for a heavy-handed crackdown on the press.

“We should not give any room to say that we are suppressing media freedom,” she said.

Various protocols

“Our regulations should also be clear for every offence and their punishment. We should not use force to ban media platforms.”

Tanzania has not been updating the world of her Coronavirus status after the Magufuli declared the country Corona-free despite various top government officials dying from the disease.

Tanzanians have also not been observing various protocols like use of masks, social distancing and other prevention strategies to curb the disease.

Among those who have so far succumbed to the disease include the vice-president of Tanzania’s semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad and head of the Civil Service, John Kijazi.

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