Nairobi – Tanzania’s new president appears to be taking a new, scientific approach to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan said Tuesday she would form a technical committee to advise her about the scope of COVID-19 infections in the country and how to respond to the pandemic.
COVID-19 is “not something we should be quiet about or refuse flatly or accept without doing a scientific examination”, President Hassan said.
“We will do medical research which will tell us the scope of the problem and advise us about what the world is recommending as well as our own expertise,” she said.
Hassan, made the remarks that were broadcast live, after swearing key government officers in a hall in State House, the president’s official residence in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. More than 100 top government officials were present, most of whom did not wear face masks or keep a distance from each other.
President Hassan’s comments are a dramatic switch from the policy of her predecessor, the late President John Magufuli, who was one of Africa’s leading COVID-19 deniers. He claimed in June last year that Tanzania had rid itself of COVID-19 through three days of national prayer. He dismissed scientific approaches to prevent and treat the disease. He discouraged the use of face masks and instead promoted prayer, physical fitness and herbal remedies.
Dr Magufuli’s government fired officials who gave other opinions and some people were arrested.
In her address Tuesday to the country, President Hassan also ordered media houses that had been closed during her predecessor’s rule to be reopened. She also urged regional officials to encourage freedom of expression to allow members of the public to express their grievances without being intimidated.
“I am hearing some media outlets, mobile televisions had been banned. I want those media allowed to operate but as per the laws of this country. There is no need to give them the pleasure to say we are suppressing press freedom,” President Hassan said.Rights groups have said that since 2015, Tanzania’s government has stepped up censorship by banning or suspending at least six newspapers for content deemed critical. They include Tanzania’s major English-language daily newspaper, The Citizen. – Associated Press