Check out Global Voices' special coverage of global coverage for COVID-19.
Tanzania prepares for COVID-19 now that the nation confirmed its first patient on March 16, 2020 and five subsequent cases.
Case zero is that of Tanzanian Isabel Mwambapa, 46, who traveled to Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Germany before returning to Tanzania with RwandaAir on March 15. He became ill after his arrival and currently remains in isolation in Arusha.
Tanzania joins several African nations that have taken a number of important steps to slow the spread of the disease, through travel restrictions and bans, contact tracing, hand washing, and recommendations for social distancing. However, citizens are still struggling to wade through an avalanche of communication around the virus.
The Minister of Health tweeted an urgent “don't panic” message to the public:
Ili kujikinga na maambukizi ya Virusi ya Corona, nor muhimu kuzingatia Maelekezo ya Wataalam. pic.twitter.com/WOSxAICFK8
– Ummy Mwalimu, MP (@umwalimu) March 18, 2020
# covid-19 Let's not be afraid.
However, it is important to follow the instructions of the experts to protect yourselves.
This may also be the reason for the press conference held at the regional commissioner's office in Arusha on March 18, in which Minister Mwalimu put patient Mwambapa in hands-free mode to confirm her improvement, which she apologized for. ” for having been the first victim of the virus in the country ”.
As of March 19, six cases were confirmed in Tanzania, of which the details of a citizen are known 24-year-old German in Zanzibar, a 61-year-old American in Dar es Salaam and two Tanzanians that they had traveled respectively one to Denmark and France and the other in South Africa. According to the BBC, the latter is the popular rapper Mwana FA.
The highly contagious coronavirus has spread throughout Africa in recent weeks. As of March 19, there are at least 635 cases of COVID-19 with at least 15 confirmed deaths. The cure for the disease is unknown, and while not necessarily deadly for people in good health, it is particularly dangerous for people with a weak immune system.
World leaders in the health sector have urged citizens to take extreme precautions as the numbers continue to increase exponentially in Europe – the current epicenter of the virus.
A rapid increase in response
In Tanzania, the government had already taken some measures before case zero was reported, but the increase in cases in the second half of March has seen a rapid increase in preventive actions that pose a radical change in the daily routine of Tanzanians.
On March 17, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa decreed a 30-day extension of the ban on public gatherings to include schools, soccer leagues, sports, music concerts, political rallies and community activities.
To show the seriousness of the situation, on March 16, President John Magufuli canceled the prestigious ceremony of the Mbio wa Mwenge wa Uhuru (Freedom Torch Race) that was to take place in April in Zanzibar, semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. .
On the same day, President Magufuli also stopped his caravan in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, to confront a large crowd that had gathered. Ironically, at the end of his speech he urged the crowd to “avoid large gatherings.”
Zanzibar – a popular tourist destination, especially for Italians – decided on March 7 to ban all charter flights from Italy, which currently has 35,713 reported cases and 2987 deaths as of March 19. In addition, several local businesses on the southeast and north coasts of Zanzibar (Unguja) – popular with tourists – made the decision to temporarily close as a measure to slow down the spread of the virus.
On March 13, President Magufuli also spoke about the virus for seven minutes at an official activity, asking the media and religious leaders to help spread prevention messages.
“If travel is not absolutely necessary, do not travel,” he said in his speech, an order for civil officials but advice for others.
Ministries and institutes have been ordered to postpone meetings and conferences involving people from countries with a high number of COVID-19 cases, and Tanzanians have been officially told to avoid “unnecessary travel” to countries affected.
As of March 13, COVID-19 has not been addressed directly by either the President or the Government, as this netizen noted:
Tanzania, why aren't we talking more about Corona? Where are the public health advisories telling people not to congregate or shake hands and to wash their hands with soap. How to self-isolate and report. Are we advising mosques and church goers?
– Said Muhammed (@saidmuhammed) March 14, 2020
Tanzania, why aren't we talking more about the corona (virus)? Where are the public health notices to tell people not to meet or shake hands and wash with soap? How to insulate and report? Are we advising mosques and the faithful?
At Kigoma airport in northwestern Tanzania, the usual Ebola check-up was extended on March 14, with requests for “social distance” between queued passengers to check-in and registration of personal travel details.
On the peninsula, a prosperous area of Dar es Salaam, hand sanitizers were introduced at the entrance to restaurants and their sale was restricted:
– Pernille Bærendtsen (@Dunia_Duara) March 15, 2020
The Village Market supermarket in the privileged part of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, restricts the sale of hand sanitizers to two per person.
On March 17, the Minister of Health, Ummy Mwalimu, ad the creation of a national working group that will be chaired jointly by the representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the country and the medical director.
Kufuatia Taarifa yangu ya tar 16 / March 2020 kuhusu kuwepo kwa mgonjwa mmoja wa Virusi vya Corona (COVID19) nchini, Serikali inaendelea kuchukua hatua za kuhakikisha ugonjwa huu unadhibitiwa haraka ili usienee kwenye jamii. Nitoe rai Kila mmoja wetu kuchukua hatua ili kujikinga. pic.twitter.com/iFROug5rmr
– Ummy Mwalimu, MP (@umwalimu) March 17, 2020
Following my declaration of March 16 on the presence of a patient with coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country, the Government continues to take measures to ensure that the disease is controlled quickly so that it does not spread among the community. Promise that everyone can take steps to protect each other.
Messaging and disinformation
In the weeks leading up to case zero, citizens have been talking about the virus in their own circle. Official authorities had not yet provided details on the preventive measures and the absence of a zero case created an apparent exemption from the crisis among some.
On March 14, a video circulated on WhatsApp summarizing this denial, which simply rejected its existence in Tanzania:
Popular adapting #Swahili proverb “Hakuna Matata” to “Karibuni Tanzania. Hakuna Corona ”-“ Welcome to Tanzania. Here's no Corona. ” Unknown origin – sourced via WhatsApp. NB. #Tanzania hasn't reported any Corona cases, but has in recent days implemented diff. preventive actions pic.twitter.com/HZBD4ba64f
– Pernille Bærendtsen (@Dunia_Duara) March 15, 2020
Adapting the popular Swahili proverb “hakuna matata” to “karibuni Tanzania. Hakuna crown ”-“ Welcome to Tanzania, there is no crown here ”. Unknown origin – via WhatsApp. Note: Tanzania has not reported any cases of crown, but these days it has applied different preventive actions.
Other examples of disturbing communication circulated in the same style: Pastor Josephat Gwajima predicted that Tanzanians will not be affected by the virus, claiming that they are protected by Jesus:
Gwajima Katoka kwenye Uchaguzi kwa UBAGUZI kaingia kwenye PUBLIC HEALTH ANNOUNCEMENTS za CORONA! Anasema TZ Hakuna na haitaingia na kuna watu wanamuamini. pic.twitter.com/oYxPRjtuk2
– fatma karume aka Shangazi (@fatma_karume) March 16, 2020
Gwajima of “Blood Choice” presents CORONA PUBLIC HEALTH ANNOUNCEMENTS! He says that Tanzania has no (cases of) crown and there will be no reason why people believe in him.
The emergence of the virus in Tanzania has sparked a flurry of reactions on social media, where netizens have both expressed fear and practical information.
On March 16, Mohammed Dewji, a former Tanzanian deputy, businessman and philanthropist tweeted a photo of himself with a mask, although it is unlikely to be entirely preventive, nor a solution for many:
– Mohammed Dewji MO (@moodewji) March 16, 2020
Tomorrow when I walk into the office with hand sanitizers and masks.
Corona, are you ready?
On March 17, Elsie Eyakuze repeated the notice from the Ministry of Health given through WhatsApp:
Habari za #Crown na jinsi ya kuepuka maambukizi zimetolewa na Wizara ya Afya, nimepata taarifa kupitia WhatsApp siwezi kuziweka zote hapa kwa mpigo. Cha Muhimu:
1. Nenda kwenye kituo cha afya chochote kile. Daktari atakayekuona ndiye atajua kama 1 /?
– Elsie Eyakuze (@MikocheniReport) March 16, 2020
News about the crown and how to avoid infection has been provided by the Ministry of Health. I received information through WhatsApp, I cannot put them all here.
Important: 1. Go to any health center.
The doctor who sees you will know if … 1 /?
However, raising awareness and at the same time offering realistic solutions to citizens is a tremendous challenge – especially when it comes to how to communicate WHO's advice on tackling the virus through hand washing and social distancing.
On March 18, The Citizen pointed out the great challenge of telling people to avoid crowds in Dar es Salaam when going to and from work.
How can citizens practice social distancing and handwashing in places where the majority live in places with crowded housing and poor sanitation?
Those questions remain unanswered.
Editor's Note: Thanks to Peter Bofin for contributing to this report.