- At a time other countries were closing borders and observing guidelines meant to reduce COVID-19 infection rates, Tanzania's President John Magufuli chose the road less taken
- The chronology of events and his hardline stance on the glaring pandemic may have largely put the country he loved dearly on a risky path
- Even in the wake of deaths and countries procuring tonnes of vaccines, he remained adamant that Tanzania would stick to natural herbs and prayers
- After leading his subjects to bulldoze through a pandemic, Magufuli leaves behind suspicions that he could have been a victim of the very virus he disputed
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On March 16, 2020, Tanzania confirmed it had recorded the first case of COVID-19, Patient Zero being a 46-year-old lady who had flown into the country from Belgium.
In the wake of the news, the Ministry of Health in Tanzania proposed a program to sensitize the public against infodemic.
The worry was that misinformation and contradicting facts especially on social media had the potential to hamper the country's efforts in dealing with the invisible enemy.
It is the chronology of events after the announcement and President John Pombe Magufuli's hardline stance on the glaring pandemic that may have largely put the country he loved dearly on a risky path.
At a time countries were closing borders, announcing cases of confirmed patients and observing guidelines meant to reduce infection rates, the president took his subjects on the road less taken.
In April, he issued an executive order that the country would no longer make public its COVID-19 situation, followed by a directive that Tanzanians would protect themselves through prayer and herbal medicine.
As countries halted religious functions, sporting activities and gatherings of all kinds, Magufuli assured his people that there was no need to panic as the country was COVID-19-free.
"Today we are here, crowded as usual. There is no one with coronavirus. Let us celebrate our God for his gift of healing. Coronavirus can not survive where there is God and prayer. You have involved God in everything. Both Muslims and Christians have been praying," he said at a public rally in Mkulanga.
Nicknamed the Bulldozer, the head of state did not take lightly anyone who had a contrary opinion regarding his position.
A poster was issued with information that citizens were to report individuals spreading information about the virus to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).
“When you receive information that incites or is misleading regarding COVID-19 in your groups or any other social media platform, take a photo and send the information to the TCRA.”
To prove just how grounded he was in his stand, Magufuli made a Kenyan media house run a one-week apology for airing a story that alluded to him being defiant.
While this happened, doctors in the country continued to decry, in hushed tones, the overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients they had to deal with every day but were not allowed to reveal in the medical records.
The country soon held a general election where Magufuli was voted back to the top seat.
The year 2021 would start on a different note as the country started losing top government officials and religious leaders to what was believed to be COVID-19.
As of February, over 10 notable personalities had succumbed among them Zanzibar's first vice president Maalim Seif, but the president's stance on the virus remained resolute.
Even in the wake of the deaths and countries procuring tonnes of the newly-released vaccine, his government continued to remain adamant that it would stick to natural herbs.
The international community started mounting pressure on the country, insisting that time was nigh for it to start reporting the figures of the virus.
A Change of Heart
He noted that there was a need for the public to observe and embrace laid down measures to prevent its spread.
"I appeal to journalists if possible everyday editors give caution against coronavirus, even two or three words. On our TVs and radios, before presenting news let there be information about COVID-19," said Magufuli.
The turnaround was hailed by the World Health Organization, adding that the new restrictions and protocols imposed by the government were promising in gearing up the fight against the virus.
The End of an Era
Roughly two weeks after that about-turn, rumours went around that the president had been taken ill and rushed to Nairobi for urgent medical attention.
On the evening of March 16, sombre Vice President Samia Suluhu went on national television to announce that Tanzania had lost its head of state to a heart condition.
After leading his subjects to bulldoze through a pandemic, Magufuli leaves behind heightened suspicions that he could have been a victim of the very virus he disputed.
It is exactly one year and one day from the day Tanzania announced its Patient Zero to the country receiving news of the president's demise.
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