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Tanzania's silence on coronavirus draws criticism over secrecy

Tanzania released on Wednesday its latest update on coronavirus infections after four days of silence from officials, prompting criticism from the country’s opposition that the government was being secretive.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) chided the east African nation last year for not being forthcoming with detailed information about another deadly disease, Ebola.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said in his latest update that the nation of 56 million people now had 480 cases of the new coronavirus - a 69% jump from five days ago - and 16 deaths.

He warned about “a tendency of some people to issue false statistics which leads to unnecessary unrest in society”, but gave no explanation why the government had gone silent since April 24.

Almost all African nations release daily reports on the latest tallies on infections, fatalities and recoveries.

“The government should not treat this pandemic as a secret,” Freeman Mbowe, head of the country’s biggest opposition party, CHADEMA, said in a televised address.

“It (COVID-19) requires transparency, truth and participation to fight it.”

COVID-19 infections and fatalities reported across Africa are relatively low compared with the United States, parts of Asia and Europe. Africa also has extremely low levels of testing - around 500 per million people.

Experts have warned that if the virus spreads fast, particularly in areas with poor sanitation facilities, it could overwhelm already stretched health services.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa head, said last week that delayed implementation of social distancing rules in Tanzania like banning mass gatherings may have led to a rise in the country’s case load.

President John Magufuli has closed schools but has left places of worship open, and last month encouraged citizens to pray the virus away.

“You haven’t seen me fearing to take (holy) communion because corona (virus) which is satanic can’t survive in Jesus’ body. It will be destroyed,” he said at a church in the country’s capital Dodoma.

This article was originally published by Reuters.


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