DON'T MISS : Talking Africa Podcast – Mozambique's insurgency: After Palma, what comes next?

Tanzania: President Hassan makes a post-Magufuli U-turn on Covid response and vaccines

By Abdul Halim
Posted on Monday, 17 May 2021 18:21, updated on Thursday, 20 May 2021 22:49

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan addresses a joint Parliament session of Kenyan Members of Parliament and Senators in Nairobi, Kenya, May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

The government of Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan has turned a page on the Covid-denialist policies of the late former president John Mugufuli by launching a national task force, which is recommending the country purchase vaccines and cooperated with the World Health Organisation (WHO) by publishing statistics and taking other measures.

Professor Said Aboud, chair of the task force, presented a report to President Hassan on Monday 17 May at State House in Dar es Salaam.

In its report, the committee says the government should use WHO-approved vaccines. It advised the government to take more actions to tackle the third Covid-19 wave.

“The committee has advised the government and recommended that Tanzania provide information on the presence of the disease as well as take steps to strengthen all preventive measures to prevent the threat of the third wave of virus,” said Aboud in a televised address aired live by the national broadcaster TBC.

The committee proposed that the first people to receive jabs should be frontline health workers, officers in security services, the elderly and religious leaders.

The committee also encouraged the government to start releasing data of Covid-19 cases. Aboud said: “People should get data from the government and the authority should report those data to the WHO in accordance to international agreements.”

The last time the government released data it was in May 2020, and by then Tanzania has reported 509 cases.

How about lockdowns?

The committee did not come out in support of lockdowns. It says the government should fight the pandemic in light of the Tanzania environment and be creative in order to protect the economy.

The task force report is a total U-turn from how Tanzania addressed the pandemic under Magufuli, who denounced vaccines.

The president of the Tanzania Medical Association, doctor Shadrack Mwaibambe, tells The Africa Report that he welcomes the government’s decisions.

“Releasing data is very important not just for now, even for the future. To understand the depth of any pandemic disease, we should share data. It’s very important,” he says.

Reacting to the committee proposal for vaccines for health workers Mwaibambe says “This is a report the President will read and address the nation on the directions of this issue. I believe the committee has made good recommendations.”

President starts wearing mask

Tanzania has been taking baby steps (in terms of adhering to WHO protocols) after the government made a U-turn with regards to its stance on Covid-19. For example, President Samia and top government officials now appear in public events regularly wearing face masks and using sanitisers.

The whole world now is busy vaccinating their own people, even Madagascar that was promoting local herbs. The task force should come out immediately and tell Tanzanians which vaccines to use,” says doctor Maiko Ndenga.

The President also wears a mask when going on trips outside the country, as was seen when she travelled to Kenya and later Uganda, to witness the swearing in of long-time leader Yoweri Museveni.

But in the streets of the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, people continue with their daily lives without observing Covid-19 health protocols such as regular hand washing and maintaining social distance. Only a few people wear face masks.

Flaviana Matata, a Tanzanian model based in the US, says the government should take the fight against Covid-19 seriously.

“The government should bring vaccines and people should opt whether to use it or not, otherwise it will be very difficult to travel abroad and it may harm the tourism sector,” she says.

Professor Mgaya argues that the government should continue urging people to observe these anti-Covid protocols.

“Under the circumstances of our country, lockdown or even partial lockdown is not appropriate, but as scientists we encourage people to observe social distancing, wear masks while in public areas and by doing so we will be taking steps advised by WHO,” he says.

Still not testing for Covid-19

But officials from Muhimbili National Hospital, the only testing facility in the country, say Covid-19 tests are not being done for the general population.

“We are not doing testing here, and we have not been given any indications by authorities to start testing people. We only test those who are going outside the country,” a doctor from the facility tells The Africa Report on condition of anonymity.

This indicates that despite the government deciding to take action, it is unclear whether the fight against the pandemic is in secret.

When the Magufuli’s administration stopped sharing Covid-19 data, the move made it difficult not only for the population but the international community to understand how Tanzania is dealing with the global health crisis.

“The decision was taken for national security purposes but all eyes are now on Tanzania, we need to come out and start testing and sharing data,” a doctor who works for a government hospital in Arusha region tells The Africa Report.

Doctor Maiko Ndenga says that Tanzania has no choice but to take up vaccines. “The whole world now is busy vaccinating their own people, even Madagascar that was promoting local herbs. The task force should come out immediately and tell Tanzanians which vaccines to use,” he says.

Despite the low speed in distribution of vaccines in Africa, several countries in the region such as Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and South Sudan have already started inoculating their citizens.

Breaking the silence on vaccines

On 14 May 2021, while addressing a council meeting organised by the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (Bakwata) at Karimjee Grounds in Dar es Salaam, President Hassan said the government is following up on Covid-19 vaccines that are available in other countries.

“Covid-19 has affected the entire world and in order to fight it we have to join other countries in fighting the pandemic,” she told Muslim worshippers while thanking religious leaders for adhering to health protocols.

The President was responding to Muslim leaders who urged the government to do a thorough analysis on which vaccines to use.

“You have warned on Covid-19 and I take that. One thing I want to assure you is your government is listening and will take actions. […] So as far as vaccines are concerned we will follow up and make sure it is suitable for our people,” the President said in a televised address.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options