Tanzania lab officials suspended as president questions data

Tanzania’s government on Monday suspended the director and a senior official of the national laboratory responsible for coronavirus testing after President John Magufuli denounced irregularities at the facility.

Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu ordered the suspensions and formed a committee of nine experts to investigate the laboratory’s testing system, the ministry said.

Magufuli, who has consistently downplayed the impact of the virus, said on Sunday that he had secretly had animals, fruits and vehicle oil tested at the laboratory. A papaya, a quail and a goat had been found to be positive, he said.

He cast doubt on the credibility of laboratory equipment and technicians and questioned official data on the epidemic.

Magufuli called on authorities to investigate what he suspected is a “dirty game” in the laboratory.

“The equipment or people may be compromised and sometimes it can be sabotage…,” the president said in a Swahili speech broadcast live through state-run TBC.

Opposition lawmaker Zitto Kabwe, head of the Alliance for Change and Transparency, defended the laboratory director.

“Don’t get heartbroken by the way politics is interfering in technical issues,” he wrote on Twitter. “I trust you did your job professionally and you will remain one of the best scientists in Tanzania.”

The east African country, which announced its first case on March 16, had recorded 480 cases of the virus and 16 deaths at its last update on Wednesday.

The opposition has accused the government of hiding information and failing to take the disease seriously.

Tanzania is one of a few countries in Africa that have not taken extensive measures against the virus.

Schools and universities have been shut but markets, bus stops and shops bustle as usual, with Magufuli urging citizens to continue working hard and not stop going to church or mosques.

AFP

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