Nairobi, Kenya (AP) – Tanzania’s new president seems to be taking a new, scientific approach to fighting the COVID-19 epidemic.
President Samia Suluhi Hassan said on Tuesday that she would set up a technical committee to help advise her on the range of COVID-19 infections in the country and how to respond to the epidemic.
COVID-19 “is not something we should keep silent about or categorically refuse or accept without conducting a scientific examination,” Hassan said in Swahili.
“We will conduct a medical examination, which will tell us the scope of the problem, will advise what the world has to offer, as well as our own experience,” he said.
Hassan made the remarks, which were broadcast live after key government officials were sworn in at the State House, the president’s official residence in Dan Es Salam, Tanzania’s largest city. More than 100 high-ranking government officials were present, most of whom did not wear face masks or keep their distance from each other.
Hassan’s comments drastically change the policies of his predecessor, the late President John von Magoufouli, who was one of Africa’s leading deniers of COVID-19. In June last year, he claimed that Tanzania had been freed from COVID-19 through three days of national prayer. He rejected scientific approaches to disease prevention and treatment. He discouraged the use of face masks, instead promoting prayer, physical fitness, and herbal remedies.
The Magoufouli government fired officials who had given different views, and some were arrested.
Hassan was the second vice president when Magufuli left the public spotlight in late February. The populist president has not been seen in public for 19 days, leading to speculation that he has COVID-19. Hassan announced Magufuli’s death on March 17, saying it was due to heart failure.
She made history when she was sworn in as Tanzania’s first female president on March 19.
Tanzanian opposition leaders have blamed 61-year-old Magufuli for COVID-19, a disease he reduced.
Magufuli warned Tanzanians not to use vaccines against the disease. Instead, he promoted trade and international tourism to avoid the economic woes of neighboring countries, which imposed a curfew and restricted international travel. He refused to ban public gatherings.
In a message to the country on Tuesday, Hassan also ordered the reopening of media houses that had been closed during his previous rule. He urged regional officials to encourage freedom of speech so that members of the public could express their grievances without intimidation.
“I’m listening to some media outlets, mobile TVs were banned. I want those media outlets to be allowed to operate, but under the laws of this country. “They do not need to be pleased to say that we are suppressing the freedom of the press.”
Human rights groups say the Tanzanian government has tightened censorship since 2015 by banning or suspending at least six newspapers for critical content. These include Tanzania’s largest English-language daily newspaper, The Citizen.
Last year, the Magoufouli government suspended a newspaper linked to one of the country’s leading opposition politicians, Freeman Mbou.
The authorities used the “Cybercrime” 2015 report. The law criminalizes journalists and activists for social media reporting.
The Tanzanian government also oversees independent research, public access to independent statistical information, using the 2015 Statistics Act, denying citizens alternative sources of self-verified information.