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Tanzania’s new president changes COVID-19 media policy



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

President Sami Suluhu Hassan said on Tuesday that he would set up a technical committee to advise her on the extent of COVID-19 infections in the country in eastern Africa and how to respond to the pandemic.

COVID-19 “is not something we should be silent about or flatly refuse or accept without doing scientific expertise,” Hassan told Swahili.

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

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Hassan made the remarks, which were broadcast live after swearing in key government officials in a hall at the State House, the president̵

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

Hassan’s comments are a dramatic breakthrough from the policies of her predecessor, the late President John Magufuli, who was one of the leading deniers of COVID-19 in Africa. In June last year, he said Tanzania had got rid of COVID-19 through a three-day national prayer. He rejected scientific approaches to preventing and treating the disease. He discouraged the use of face masks and instead encouraged prayer, exercise and herbal remedies.

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

FILE - This Tuesday, March 16, 2021, a photo of the file, Tanzanian President Sami Suluhu Hassan spoke during a tour of the Tanga region of Tanzania.  (AP photo / file)

FILE – This Tuesday, March 16, 2021, a photo of the file, Tanzanian President Sami Suluhu Hassan spoke during a tour of the Tanga region of Tanzania. (AP photo / file)

Hassan was in his second term as vice president when Magufuli dropped out of public office in late February. The populist president has not been seen in public for 19 days, sparking speculation that he has 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 as Tanzania’s first female president on March 19.

Opposition leaders in Tanzania say Magufuli, 61, has died of COVID-19, a disease he has downplayed.

Magufuli warned Tanzanians not to use vaccines against the disease. Instead, it encourages trade and international tourism, seeking to avoid the economic pain of neighboring countries, which have imposed conclusions and curfews and restricted international travel. He refused to ban public gatherings.

In an address to the country on Tuesday, Hassan also ordered the reopening of media outlets closed during her predecessor’s rule. She also called on regional officials to promote freedom of expression to allow the public to express their grievances without being threatened.

“I hear some media, mobile TV has been banned. I want these media to have the right to work, but according to the laws of this country. We do not need to give them the pleasure of saying that we are suppressing press freedom,” Hassan said.

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Human rights groups said the Tanzanian government had tightened censorship since 2015, banning or stopping at least six newspapers for content deemed critical. These include Tanzania’s largest English-language daily, The Citizen.

FILE - This Saturday, July 11, 2015, a photo of the file, then-Tanzania's then-Minister of Public Works and presidential candidate John Magufuli spoke in an internal party poll to decide the ruling party's candidate Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), who they later chose him, in Dodoma, Tanzania.  (AP Photo / Khalfan Said, File)

FILE – This Saturday, July 11, 2015, a file on the photo, the then Minister of Public Works and candidate for President of Tanzania John Magufuli spoke in an internal party poll to decide the candidate for president of the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), who they later chose him, in Dodoma, Tanzania. (AP Photo / Khalfan Said, File)

Last year, Magufuli’s government shut down a newspaper linked to one of the country’s leading opposition politicians, Freeman Mboue.

Authorities used the 2015 Cybercrime Act to harass journalists and activists for social media posts, the legal group said.

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


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