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Tanzania’s new president changes policy on COVID-19, media



Tanzania’s new president appears to be taking a new, scientific approach to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on Tuesday that she will form a technical committee to advise her on the extent of COVID-19 infections in the country of East Africa and how to respond to the pandemic.

COVID-19 is “not something we should be silent about or flatly reject or accept without conducting a scientific study,” Hassan said in Swahili.

We will conduct medical research that tells us the extent of the problem and advises us on what the world recommends as well as our own expertise, ”she said.

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Hassan made the remarks, sent directly after swearing at key government officials in a hall of the State House, the president̵

7;s official residence in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. More than 100 top officials were present, most of whom did not wear face masks or keep their distance from each other.

Hassan’s comments are a dramatic shift from the policies of his 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 liberated itself from COVID-19 through three days of national prayer. He rejected scientific approaches to preventing and treating the disease. He discouraged the use of face masks and instead promotes prayer, physical fitness and herbal medicine.

Magufuli’s government fired officials who gave other opinions and some were arrested.

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 16, 2021 archive photo, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan speaks during a tour of the Tanga region of Tanzania.  (AP Photo / File)

FILE – In this Tuesday, March 16, 2021 archive photo, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan speaks during a tour of the Tanga region of Tanzania. (AP Photo / File)

Hassan was in his second term as vice president when Magufuli fell out of public service in late February. The populist president was not seen in public for 19 days, raising speculation that he was ill with 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 by Tanzania’s first female president on March 19.

Tanzania’s opposition leaders accuse Magufuli, 61, of dying of COVID-19, the disease he had downplayed.

Magufuli warned Tanzanians against using the vaccines against the disease. He instead promoted trade and international tourism, eager to avoid the economic pain of neighboring countries that had imposed lockdowns and curfews and limited international travel. He refused to ban public gatherings.

In his speech to the country Tuesday, Hassan also ordered media houses that had been closed under her predecessor’s rule to reopen. She also called on regional officials to encourage freedom of expression in order to allow the public to express their complaints without being intimidated.

“I hear some media, mobile TV had been banned. I want these media to work, but according to the laws of this country. It is not necessary to give them the pleasure of saying that we suppress freedom of the press, said Hassan.

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Rights groups have said that since 2015, the Tanzanian government has intensified censorship by banning or suspending at least six newspapers for content that is considered critical. They include Tanzania’s largest English-language newspaper, Citizen.

FILE - On this Saturday, July 11, 2015 file image, Tanzania's then Minister of Public Works and Presidential candidate John Magufuli speaks at an internal party inquiry to determine the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party's presidential candidate, whom they later elected him to be in Dodoma , Tanzania.  (AP Photo / Khalfan Said, File)

FILE – In this Saturday, July 11, 2015 file image, Tanzania’s then Minister of Public Works and Presidential candidate John Magufuli speaks at an internal party inquiry to determine the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party’s presidential candidate, whom they later elected him in Dodoma, Tanzania. (AP Photo / Khalfan Said, File)

Last year, Magufuli’s government suspended a newspaper affiliated with one of the country’s leading opposition politicians, Freeman Mbowe.

Authorities used the 2015 Cybercrime Act to prosecute journalists and social media activists, the rights group said.

The Tanzanian government also controls independent research and public access to independent statistical information using the Statistics Act of 2015 and denies citizens alternative sources of independently verified information, the reports say.


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