Africa

Tanzanian president ditches predecessor's rejection of masks

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Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

NAIROBI, May 7 (Reuters) - Tanzania's new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, on Friday stressed the importance of face masks in fighting COVID-19, ditching one of the most controversial policies of her late coronavirus-sceptic predecessor.

Hassan took office in March after the death of John Magufuli, who had urged Tanzanians to shun masks and denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy, to the frustration of the World Health Organization.

Last month, she formed a committee to research whether Tanzania, which under Magufuli stopped reporting coronavirus data, should follow the course that the rest of the world has taken against the pandemic. read more

On Friday, wearing a face mask and flanked by senior government and security officials, also all in masks, Hassan addressed prominent community elders in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

"We have come with face masks because elders are in a group of people who are at higher risk of contracting the prevailing disease," she said. "We have found it is important to protect you."

One of those present was Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima, who, while Magufuli was president, urged Tanzanians to embrace steam inhalations, traditional medicines and even vegetable smoothies to protect themselves against COVID-19.

Magufuli died in March after weeks of speculation that he was ill with COVID-19.

Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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