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For a year, this entire country denied COVID-19 existed — that just changed

For a year, the government denied coronavirus existed. This week, they began a nationwide vaccination campaign

SHARE For a year, this entire country denied COVID-19 existed — that just changed
A nurse vaccinates Tanzaian President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Dodoma, Tanzania.

A nurse vaccinates Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Dodoma, Tanzania, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. In a major breakthrough for one of the world’s last countries to embrace COVID-19 vaccines, Tanzania’s president has kicked off her nation’s vaccination campaign by publicly receiving a dose and urging others to do the same.

Domasa Sylivester, Associated Press

For more than a year, Tanzania officially reported no cases of COVID-19. How?

  • The government denied the virus existed, declared Tanzania “coronavirus free” last June and stopped releasing data, reported NPR.
  • This spring, when COVID-19 vaccines became available, the Tanzanian government refused to accept any vaccines, reported Al Jazeera.

But that has changed now. Entirely.

Wednesday, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan received her dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on national television, reported CNN. The event kicked off a nationwide vaccination campaign in the East African country.

Why did Tanzania deny COVID-19 existed?

The main proponent of Tanzania’s yearlong COVID-19 denial was former President John Magufuli, reported NPR. After the country recorded its first COVID-19 case in March 2020, Magufuli’s administration launched a task force, pushed for social distancing and closed schools and other stadiums.

  • Three months into the pandemic — in June 2020 — Magufuli called for three days of national prayer, per NPR.
  • Afterward, Magufuli “declared the country ‘coronavirus free’ ... claiming God had eliminated the virus,” according to NPR.

From June 2020 until recently, Tanzania stopped releasing COVID-19 numbers and lifted all restrictions — much to the concern of international medical experts, reported Al Jazeera.

What changed in Tanzania? Why are they recognizing COVID-19 now?

In March 2021, Magufuli died. Officially, he passed away from heart disease but rumors questioned whether he died from COVID-19, reported NPR.

  • After Magufuli’s death, the presidency fell to deputy Samia Suluhu Hassan, per NPR.
  • Shortly after her inauguration, President Hassan formed a COVID-19 task force to investigate the country’s stance on the pandemic, reported CNN.

Based on this task force and Hassan’s leadership, the government’s stance on COVID-19 entirely changed, reported CNN. The government began releasing data on new cases and requested to receive vaccines from the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative.

  • Hassan received one of these COVAX-provided vaccines on Wednesday, per CNN.

What are outbreaks and vaccinations like in Tanzania?

As of Wednesday, Tanzania has reported a total of 858 cases of COVID-19, according to The Associated Press. The country has begun irregularly releasing data on its current outbreaks. The country is currently experiencing its third wave of outbreaks, according to Hassan this week.

  • Critics of Tanzania’s earlier stance on the pandemic warn that many more people have likely been infected, reported Al Jazeera.

Now, Tanzania has kicked off its nationwide vaccination campaign.

“We will make sure our country has enough vaccines for those who are willing to be vaccinated,” Hassan said Wednesday, per Al Jazeera

Even as the government’s official stance has changed, the public remains incredibly skeptical and hesitant about vaccines, per CNN. Getting the country’s population of 60 million people to get vaccinated will take an intense public education campaign to correct the misinformation spread by the former president’s regime.

  • Currently, vaccines remain voluntary in Tanzania, reported CNN.