A few days after President John Mafuguli finally admitted Tanzania has a coronavirus problem, after months of apparent denial and growing warnings of an upsurge in infections, the sight of the country’s finance minister coughing and panting at a press conference to defend his state of health in left many in shock.
Finance Minister Philip Mpango, who did not disclose what he was suffering from, spoke to a dozen journalists at a hospital in the capital, Dodoma on Tuesday after rumors he had died of COVID-19. A recent spate of deaths attributed to “pneumonia” and “respiratory problems” has hit both government officials and members of the public.
Mpango, who was not wearing a mask, was alongside a doctor and a hospital director – both also without a mask. Behind him stood doctors and nurses who wore masks.
The minister, his voice trembling, had a coughing fit during the press conference to announce that he was discharged from hospital after 14 days.
“I came to the hospital with my oxygen cylinder, but in the past three days I haven’t used it because my health has improved,” he said, breaking briefly. by sending condolences on the recent deaths.
Tanzanians: Minister of Finance Dr Mpango seriously ill, on ventilator, due to COVID-19
Government: Dr Mpango is not very ill. Let’s call a press conference and show the finance minister. He doesn’t even have to wear a mask.
VIDEO – THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED NEXT !!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/yrDWFJDLmg
– Louis Jadwong (@Jadwong) February 24, 2021
“If you look at him physically he wasn’t supposed to speak at all but there was probably pressure behind,” said one of those present, who asked not to be identified, as quoted by the news agency. AFP press.
On social media, people expressed their horror at the scene, including opposition leader Tundu Lissu.
“Has the intelligence of our leaders reached this level? Who allowed this patient to cough on people, instead of being in the hospital for treatment or to rest in bed? He wrote on Twitter. “What kind of doctor has coughed without a mask?” What are you trying to prove by this recklessness? “
Magufuli has insisted for months that COVID-19 was prayerfully repelled, but in recent days he admitted it was still circulating after the semi-autonomous Zanzibar vice president was revealed to be dead respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
On Sunday, he revealed that some of his assistants and family members had contracted COVID-19 but recovered and offered lukewarm support for the use of masks.
“Let’s all depend on God because we also take other preventive measures. I put God first and that’s why I don’t wear a mask.
He came as head of the World Health Organization appealed the Tanzanian government to take “vigorous action” against COVID-19 after several travelers from the country tested positive.
In a statement, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesusrenew also renewed his call for authorities to start reporting COVID-19 cases and sharing data – Tanzania, a country of around 60 million people, has stopped release figures on COVID-19 in April 2020.
On Monday, the United States issued a “do not travel” warning to Tanzania, due to the spread of the virus. The next day, Oman said it would not allow Tanzanians to enter the Gulf country for 15 days, while Kenya announced on Wednesday that its athletes had been banned from participating in Tanzania’s biggest marathon race on Saturday. due to concerns about the pandemic.
Call to prayer for unspecified “ respiratory ” illnesses
Last month Magufuli had claims COVID-19 vaccinations are dangerous and have instead urged Tanzanians to protect themselves from the disease using national measures, including steam inhalation.
He had previously questioned the effectiveness of imported COVID-19 tests and urged people to pray for protection from the coronavirus.
Seif Sharif Hamad, one of Tanzania’s foremost politicians and vice-president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, died last week, his political party admitting he had contracted coronavirus. Magufuli’s chief secretary has also died in recent days, although the cause has not been disclosed.
Speaking at John Kijazi’s funeral on a national television broadcast on Friday, Magufuli urged the nation to participate in three days of prayer for the unspecified “respiratory” illnesses that had become a challenge for the country.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Tanzanian doctor Frank Minja said authorities had spoken of COVID-19 “in very general terms” and with euphemisms, which he called problematic.
“[Health authorities would say,] “You have viral pneumonia, you have very severe pneumonia, you have difficulty breathing”; we’re talking about inventing general terms, ”said Minja.
“We can’t just talk about infectious diseases in general. Yes, they’ve given advice in general, but we need to alert people that we have three methods that actually work against COVID-19: masks, washing hands, and avoiding large crowds. “
Tanzanian journalist Ansbert Ngurumo agreed, saying the government has no control over the coronavirus situation in the country.
“In order for you to be able to control the disease, you have to admit that there is a problem and then you work to control the problem,” he told Al Jazeera. “If you don’t even track infections, how do you control them?”