WHO's Tedros says he still has no details from Tanzania on its COVID response

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The head of the World Health Organization urged Tanzania on Sunday to share information on its measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, saying the authorities there had repeatedly ignored his requests.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) speaks during the opening of the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, January 18, 2021. Christopher Black/WHO/File Photo

President John Magufuli’s sceptical approach towards COVID-19 has caused alarm among WHO officials. A government spokesman told Reuters on Feb.12 that Tanzania had “controlled” the outbreak, but it stopped reporting new coronavirus infections and deaths in May last year. At the time it had registered 509 cases and 21 deaths.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Sunday that Tanzanians testing positive for COVID-19 abroad underscored “the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond.”

Tedros also repeated a call he made with Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa head, in late January for Tanzania to bolster public health measures against COVID-19 and prepare to distribute vaccines.

He added that since then he had spoken with several authorities there to no avail.

“This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data,” Tedros said in a statement on WHO’s website.

Tanzania government spokesman Hassan Abbasi did not respond to a Reuters message seeking comment on Tedros’ remarks.

In a statement later on Sunday, Magufuli’s office said the president wanted Tanzanians to follow measures to protect themselves against coronavirus. However, it also said that:

“Magufuli wants Tanzanians to ... trust and put God first, given that wearing masks, social distancing and lockdowns have been seen to be insufficient as countries that implemented them have lost thousands compared to Tanzania.”

Magufuli attended a funeral service on Friday for a senior official in his office whose cause of death was not made public, and declared three days of national prayer.

On Sunday, Magufuli said Tanzanians should wear only use locally-made face masks, saying foreign-made ones may be unsafe.

On Monday, Oman’s health minister said his country was considering suspending flights from Tanzania, after 18% of travellers arriving from Tanzania tested positive for COVID-19.

Thailand reported on Monday its first case of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa, in a Thai man who arrived from Tanzania.

Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Daniel Wallis