Concerns about coronavirus secrecy in Tanzania

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Tanzania released its latest update on coronavirus infections after four days of silence from officials on Wednesday, drawing opposition criticism that the government is being secretive.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) chided the east African nation last year for not being forthcoming with detailed information about another deadly disease, Ebola.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said in his latest update the nation of 56 million people now had 480 cases of coronavirus – a 69% jump from five days ago – and 16 deaths.

He warned about “a tendency to issue false statistics leading to unnecessary unrest in society”, but gave no explanation why government was silent since April 24.

Most African nations release daily reports on the infection tallies, fatalities and recoveries.

“Government should not treat this pandemic as a secret,” Freeman Mbowe, head of the largest opposition party, CHADEMA, said in a televised address.

“It COVID-19 requires transparency, truth and participation to fight it.”

COVID-19 infections and fatalities across Africa are relatively low compared with the US, parts of Asia and Europe. Africa has low levels of testing – around 500 per million people.

Experts warn if the virus spreads fast, particularly in areas with poor sanitation facilities, it could overwhelm stretched health services.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa head, said delayed implementation of social distancing rules in Tanzania including banning mass gatherings may have led to a rise in the country’s caseload.

President John Magufuli closed schools but left places of worship open and last month encouraged citizens to pray the virus away.

“You haven’t seen me fearing to take holy communion because corona which is satanic can’t survive in Jesus’ body. It will be destroyed,” he said at a church in Dodoma.