New Tanzanian president changes COVID-19 policy, media

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

President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on Tuesday she would form a technical committee to advise her on the scale of COVID-19 infections in the east African country and how to respond to the pandemic.

COVID-19 is “not something that we should remain silent or categorically refuse or accept without doing a scientific review,” Hassan said in Swahili.

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

CORONAVIRUS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Hassan, made the remarks which were broadcast live, after taking the oath of office to key government officials in a room at State House, the president’s official residence in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. More than 100 senior government officials were in attendance, most of whom were not wearing face masks or keeping their distance from each other.

Hassan’s comments are a radical departure 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 of last year that Tanzania got rid of COVID-19 through three days of national prayer. He rejected scientific approaches to prevent and treat the disease. He discouraged the use of face masks and instead encouraged prayer, fitness, and herbal remedies.

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

Hassan was in his second term as vice president when Magufuli left public view at the end of February. The populist president was not seen in public for 19 days, suggesting he was sick with COVID-19. Hassan announced Magufuli’s death on March 17, claiming 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 accuse Magufuli, 61, of dying from COVID-19, the disease he had played down.

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

In his speech to the country on Tuesday, Hassan also ordered the reopening of media houses that had been closed during the reign of his predecessor. She also urged regional officials to encourage freedom of expression to allow members of the public to voice their grievances without being intimidated.

“I hear some media, mobile televisions have been banned. I want these media to be allowed to operate but in accordance with the laws of this country. There is no need to give them the pleasure of saying that we are taking away the freedom to the press, ”Hassan said. .

CLICK HERE FOR FULL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

Rights groups have said that since 2015, the Tanzanian government has stepped up censorship by banning or suspending at least six newspapers for content deemed critical. These include Tanzania’s leading English-language daily, The Citizen.

FILE - In this file photo from Saturday, July 11, 2015, then Tanzanian Minister of Public Works and presidential candidate John Magufuli speaks during an internal party ballot to decide on the candidate for the presidency of the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which they later chose him to be, in Dodoma, Tanzania.  (AP Photo / Khalfan Said, file)

FILE – In this file photo from Saturday, July 11, 2015, then Tanzanian Minister of Public Works and presidential candidate John Magufuli speaks during an internal party ballot to decide on the candidate for the presidency of the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which they later chose him to be, in Dodoma, Tanzania. (AP Photo / Khalfan Said, file)

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

Authorities used the 2015 cybercrime law to prosecute journalists and activists for social media posts, the rights group said.

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

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