In Brief: Tanzania rethinks its approach to COVID-19

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Workers prepare face shields from recycled plastic at a workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo by: Reuters

Tanzania’s new president said she plans to form a committee of experts to evaluate the nation’s COVID-19 response, suggesting a shift from the government’s adamant denial of the disease’s presence in the country.

“We cannot isolate ourself as an island,” President Samia Suluhu Hassan said, adding that the country “cannot accept everything from abroad, but we also cannot reject everything.”

Why this matters: Hassan took office last month after the death of John Magufuli, her predecessor, following a year of denial about COVID-19’s presence in the country and scoffing at mask-wearing and other public health measures. There is suspicion that Magufuli died from COVID-19.

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The country has not reported any cases of the coronavirus since May 2020, causing the World Health Organization to make a rare statement calling the situation “very concerning.” With no prevention measures, the virus was able to spread unabated. Recently, scientists said a highly mutated variant of the virus was found in three people traveling from Tanzania to Angola.

While the country is eligible for free vaccines from COVAX, the global COVID-19 vaccine initiative, Magufuli’s administration took no steps to receive doses, instead warning that the public could be used as “guinea pigs.”

“#Tanzania is JOINING the World,” tweeted Fatma Karume, a former president of the country’s Tanganyika Law Society who was disbarred after challenging Magufuli, in response to the news of the committee.

What’s next: Hassan suggested that the country might start publishing data again on positive COVID-19 cases and that the government will take a science-based approach to the response.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a Global Health Reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.