Two weeks, no update: Tanzania opposition demands truth on virus

The US embassy in Tanzania has warned that the risk of contracting the virus in Dar es Salaam was "extremely high" (AFP Photo/Ericky BONIPHACE) (AFP/File)
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Dar es Salaam (AFP) - Tanzania's opposition on Wednesday demanded the truth about the country's coronavirus infections two weeks after the last update, as the US embassy raised the alarm over "overwhelmed hospitals".

The government stopped giving daily updates after President John Magufuli complained last month they were causing panic, and went on to question data from the national laboratory.

The last total of 480 cases and 16 deaths was given on April 29.

"The government of Tanzania shouldn't keep its citizens in the dark," Zitto Kabwe, the leader of the opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT-Wazalendo), told AFP.

"Transparency is key in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic."

On Tuesday the party released a statement slamming the "radio silence" from the government.

"We need to know what the truth is and we need to know it now. We request that (Magufuli's) government issues statistics on a daily basis from this day forward."

On Wednesday, the US embassy in Tanzania issued a statement warning the risk of contracting the virus in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam was "extremely high".

"Despite limited official reports, all evidence points to exponential growth of the epidemic in Dar and other locations in Tanzania," said the embassy, urging its staff and families to remain at home.

"Many hospitals in Dar es Salaam have been overwhelmed in recent weeks. Limited hospital capacity throughout Tanzania could result in life-threatening delays for medical care, including for those with COVID-19," it added.

Last week the government said it would resume giving data when there had been improvements at the national laboratory.

Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu suspended the director and a senior official at the laboratory after Magufuli cast doubt on the credibility of laboratory equipment and technicians and questioned official data on the epidemic.

Magufuli, who has consistently downplayed the impact of the virus, said he had secretly had animals, fruits and vehicle oil tested at the laboratory.

A papaya, a quail and a goat had been found to be positive, he said.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said Tanzania's tests were working well and had been proven to be reliable.

Magufuli has urged citizens to keep attending church and the mosque and working hard, and Tanzania has not taken extensive measures to halt the spread of the virus, unlike its neighbours.

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