Tanzania suspended the head of the national medical laboratory, a day after President John Magufuli questioned its coronavirus case figures and said the outbreak isn’t as bad as reported.
The removal of Nyambura Moremi, director of the National Health Laboratory Quality Assurance and Training Centre, comes amid mounting criticism of Magufuli’s response to the pandemic. The 60-year-old leader has refused to impose a lockdown and allowed churches and mosques to stay open, saying God will protect Tanzanians from the virus.
While the East African nation officially has 480 confirmed cases of the disease, the opposition says the toll is far higher. Unverified videos circulating on social media of nighttime burials and graveyards full of coffins have fueled fears the illness isn’t being contained.
On Sunday, Magufuli cast doubt on the facility’s data by saying government officials secretly sent swabs to the NHL that were labeled as human, but had been taken from a live goat, a bird and a papaya fruit. All three swabs tested positive for the virus, he said.
“This means that some people who have tested positive for coronavirus actually don’t even have this disease,” Magufuli said in a televised address. “The situation is not as bad as fear-mongers claim.”
Moremi, who was suspended with immediate effect, didn’t respond to phone calls or a text message seeking comment. An investigation is ongoing, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Tanzania has been ruled by versions of the same party ever since its 1964 unification. Magufuli came to power in 2015 amid discontent over corruption under his predecessor and quickly gained popularity with an efficiency drive that weeded out graft among government officials. He appears set to win a new term in October elections.
The biggest opposition party, Chadema, on Friday asked its members to suspend attending parliament amid fears the virus may have struck at the heart of government. Three lawmakers have died in the space of 11 days from undisclosed causes.
Magufuli dismissed the opposition’s concerns, saying it’s being used by “imperialists,” and demanded the payment of their parliamentary allowances be suspended.
It’s not the first time Magufuli has disagreed with his officials over data. In December 2016, the president dismissed the head of the medical research institute after he rejected the facility’s report of a Zika virus case.
This article was originally published on Bloomberg.