'More dangerous than Covid?': Fears over country's 'concerning' claim

While there has been scrutiny over Africa's coronavirus statistics, one country on the continent has prompted serious concerns.

It is feared many nations' cases are going unreported due to a lack of testing while research indicates a spike in deaths by natural causes as opposed to Covid-related ones.

Yet Tanzania, nestled below Kenya on Africa's east coast, claims to have eliminated the virus.

And what does the nation of 60 million credit its success to? Mask wearing? Social distancing? Closed borders? No.

President John Magufuli says Tanzania has defeated coronavirus through the power of God.

Worshippers attend Sunday mass without wearing masks and social distancing at Ufunuo na Uzima Church in Dar es Salaam on February 7, 2021.
Social distancing and mask wearing has widely been ignored in Tanzania. Source: Getty Images

The Tanzanian government claims to have not recorded a coronavirus case since May, with just 509 reported cases to date, alongside 21 deaths.

Yet the mounting pressure on the country's limited health system and a surge in funerals tells a different story, with the government's refusal to acknowledge the virus the likely reason for such remarkable statistics.

The nation was rocked following the death of the vice-president of Tanzania's semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, following a battle with Covid, stoking fears among the nation's people.

The president’s chief secretary also died this week yet his death is being attributed to a heart attack.

Foreign Policy journalist Lynsey Chutel questioned earlier this month if Magufuli was "more dangerous than Covid-19" itself.

Tanzania President John Magufuli is pictured.
President John Magufuli has repeatedly dismissed the threat of the pandemic. Source: AP

WHO's desperate plea to Tanzania

Mr Magufuli's approach to the pandemic has left the World Health Organisation deeply worried over its lasting impacts.

He has dismissed the vaccine as dangerous while his health minister promoted a herbal steaming remedy, which she claimed helped avoid respiratory infections such as Covid-19.

There has also been a rejection of key preventative measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and restrictions by the government.

"This situation remains very concerning," World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement earlier this week.

A graph of daily new cases in Tanzania with no infections recorded after May 2020.
Tanzania claims to have eliminated the virus in May. Source: Worldometers

"I call on Tanzania to implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chains of transmission, and to prepare for vaccination."

On Sunday, a reluctant Mr Magufuli admitted the nation had a "respiratory" illnesses problem, however refrained from naming Covid-19.

He called on residents to take precautions and wear masks, however only locally-made ones.

Yet there was again a call to rely on one's faith, with Mr Magufuli calling on people to end the respiratory disease with three days of prayer.

Several people in Tanzania told VOA News they hoped the president's acknowledgment of an illness would be a wake-up call to those who have stood by their leader and have too denied the existence of Covid-19 in the country.

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