More than a year since Covid-19 reared its ugly head, President John Pombe Magufuli still doesn't believe it really exists. Even after killing nearly 2.5 million people worldwide, the Tanzania leader until now sees the disease as a big hoax. Despite upending the global economy and cutting short livelihoods for millions of people, Dr Magufuli still thinks Covid-19 is some form of a cruel joke.
Not long after the coronavirus was reported in Tanzania, the president expressed scepticism over its existence and afterwards declared Tanzania free of the disease. God, he told a church congregation, had 'removed' the pestilence from Tanzania.
Sometime before that, he had halted coronavirus testing after declaring the tests defective. He had reached the conclusion after subjecting samples from sheep, pawpaw and even engine oil to the coronavirus tests. They all turned positive.
As a result, Tanzanians were left to their own devices, continuing with life as usual as people across the world donned face masks and went into lockdowns. We warned right here that Magufuli was playing with fire; exposing millions of Tanzanians to danger.
It is hard to establish how many people have succumbed to Covid-19 in the country as there have been no statistics on infections or deaths. But it appears the chickens are coming home to roost. Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, Zanzibar’s first vice president, died on Wednesday. He had confirmed that he was being treated for Covid-19.
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There are more revelations. Oman reported on Monday that 18 per cent of passengers coming from Tanzania had tested positive for coronavirus. Denmark and India have said some travellers from Tanzania have tested positive, including for the new variant from South Africa. The US Embassy in Tanzania has also warned of rise in the number of Covid-19 cases since January.
It's a big, fat lie. God has not removed Covid-19 from Tanzania.
Magufuli must change. He should heed the calls of Tanzanian religious leaders, activists, politicians, citizens and world leaders and fight this war valiantly like regional and global peers. He must stop burying his head in the sand. It is tragic when such scepticism and intransigence comes from a head of state.
Meanwhile, Kenya must step up vigilance at border points to reduce chances of importing Covid-19, especially the new variant that is reportedly spreading like wildfire.