For more than six months, Tanzania has tried to convince the world that it was, through prayers, “free” from the coronavirus. But the protest grows as the death toll increases, officially due to “pneumonia”.
“The Covid-19 is killing people and we are seeing a lot of cases but we cannot talk about it because of the situation”, testifies in Dar es Salaam a doctor of the public hospital, having as many requested anonymity by fear of reprisals.
The country, whose President John Magufuli from the outset minimized the dangerousness of the virus when its neighbors barricaded themselves, is not observing any measure intended to limit the pandemic.
As early as June 2020, Mr. Magufuli declared that prayers had saved his country from Covid-19.
“That’s why we don’t wear masks here. Do you think we’re not afraid of dying? It’s just that there is no Covid-19,” he said. .
To hinder the flow of information related to the virus, laws prohibit the publication of articles on “fatal or contagious diseases” without official permission.
Tanzania last published official figures on infections in April 2020 and announced a month later, in defiance of the tests, to have tested positive for Covid-19 a papaya, a quail or a goat.
In the process, the African Union’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), however, found the Tanzanian tests reliable.
“Take care of my life”
Even so, some – rare – Tanzanians now wear masks and speak openly about their fear of the coronavirus.
“This stuff attacks us and the government doesn’t want to reveal it or accept it. I know four people who have died from pneumonia we were told, and all of them died around the same time. “Says Kuluthum Hussein, 28, wearing a mask at a bus stop.
“I take care of my life,” she adds.
In January, the Danish Institute for Disease Tracking (SSI) confirmed that two people returning from a trip to Tanzania tested positive for the new South African variant, which may be more contagious.
In Dar es Salaam, a resident told AFP that her cousin had died after a business trip to South Africa.
“Two weeks after coming home he felt unwell and then suffered from difficulty breathing before he died. A doctor told us he had the coronavirus.”
The UK has banned flights from Tanzania in an attempt to stem the spread of the South African variant, while the US has in a travel advisory issued last week stressed that the country is experiencing “very high levels” of Covid-19.
Breaking the law of silence imposed by the government, the Catholic Church of Tanzania has called on its faithful to protect themselves.
“Our country is not an island. We have every reason to take precautions and pray to God in order to come out of this pandemic unscathed,” she recently wrote in a letter.
In Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region, Vice-President Seif Sharif Hamad has confirmed having been hospitalized due to Covid-19.
A doctor stationed at the island’s testing center told AFP that more than 80 cases were recorded there between mid-December and early January.
“But we are not authorized to publish this data. We keep it for future use,” he testifies.
The increase in cases has given rise to mixed messages from authorities.
In Zanzibar, for example, the health ministry called last week to avoid gatherings and recommended “rushing to the nearest hospital to be tested for breathing difficulties.” But an official from the same ministry denied, on condition of anonymity, any link with the coronavirus.
“No, we just want people to be careful because the number of people suffering from respiratory problems is increasing. This is not about Covid-19.”
In January, Mr Magufuli appeared to admit the virus could circulate in Tanzania but blamed the vaccines themselves, which he deems “dangerous”, claiming that Tanzanians have gone abroad to be vaccinated. and have “reported a strange coronavirus”.
The same month, an official of the Ministry of Health, Mabula Mchembe, visiting hospitals in Dar es Salaam, insisted that the latter were not taking in patients with Covid-19, citing “rumors that could cause a unjustified panic. “
Last week, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, hoped Tanzania “quickly reconsider” its “position” on the coronavirus.
“It’s a dangerous virus, a virus that spreads very quickly, and a virus that knows no borders. It doesn’t know whether or not you are in Tanzania.”