Covid-19 case numbers in Tanzania have risen considerably since January, says the United States embassy in the country’s largest city, Dar es Salaam.
The warning comes as the East African nation’s president continues to downplay the virus and tell the health ministry not to rush to purchase vaccines.
Tanzania has not reported Covid-19 cases or deaths since late April. The US embassy warned that healthcare facilities could be swamped and that poor hospital capacity could “result in life-threatening delays for emergency medical care.”
“The U.S. Embassy is aware of a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases since January 2021,” it said in a statement on Wednesday. “The practice of COVID-19 mitigation and prevention measures remains limited.”
Currently, neither the Department of State nor the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend travel to Tanzania. Travelers arriving into the US from Tanzania aged two years and older are required to present a negative test taken within three days of traveling.
President John Magufuli, who was reelected in a disputed October 2020 election, has repeatedly downplayed the virus and recommended outlandish cures.
In April he advocated inhaling steam as a way to cure symptoms, saying the virus is made up of fats and would disintegrate under high temperatures. Two months later he claimed the country had eradicated the virus “by the grace of God”.
Magufuli has also refused to acquire vaccines for the population of 58 million, saying they are “dangerous” and “not good for us.”
“There are some of our fellow Tanzanians who recently did travel abroad in search of corona vaccines, they are the ones who brought back corona in our country after returning,” Magufuli said at an event on January 27. “My fellow Tanzanians, let us stand firm, some of these vaccines are not good for us.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) urged officials in Tanzania earlier this month to follow science in the fight against Covid-19.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director, said Africans should get vaccinated as soon as possible in a Thursday press briefing marking one year of Covid-19 on the continent.
“Ensuring equitable access to #COVID19 vaccines & sustaining the public health measures are the critical priorities to overcome this crisis,” said Moeti, who was last month critical of Tanzania’s efforts to fight the pandemic.
During a news conference on February 1, Tanzania’s Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima didn’t say when the country will start receiving vaccines but instead reiterated the government’s suggested hygiene practices, which include drinking plenty of water and taking local herbs, which the government claims, without evidence, can combat the virus.
The leader of one of the largest political parties in Tanzania, the Alliance for Change and Transparency, has spoken out against the government’s Covid-19 denial in recent weeks.
“Tanzania’s neighbours need to understand that as long as Tanzania refuses to be a responsible partner in this battle against Covid-19, the entire region remains vulnerable!” Zitto Kabwe said in a tweet on Wednesday.
In another tweet last month, he said Tanzanians should have the right to vaccinations and called those ruling Tanzania conspiracy theorists.
Two people who traveled from Tanzania to the UK were carrying the B.1351 variant first detected in South Africa.
CNN’s Radina Gigova contributed to this report.