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Tanzanians have been sceptical of the government’s assurance that the crisis was not serious

The US embassy in Tanzania has warned that there is a risk of “exponential growth” of Covid-19 cases in the country at a time when the government is not releasing data on new cases.

It added that the risk of contracting the virus in the largest city, Dar es Salaam, was “extremely high.”

President John Magufuli has accused local health officials of exaggerating the health crisis.

On 29 April, the last day official data was released, there were 509 cases.

Of these, 21 people died.

While Tanzanian authorities have downplayed the extent of the pandemic, videos of night burials shared on social media have caused some to call into question the government’s approach.

President Magufuli has been widely criticised for refusing to order churches and mosques to close and for saying prayers “can vanquish” the virus.

Last week, President Magufuli revealed that he secretly had animals and fruits samples tested at the national health laboratory in charge of coronavirus and that a papaya (paw-paw), a quail bird, and a goat had returned positive results.

He later closed the laboratory and suspended the head.

Some churches have stopped services, but many are still packed on Sundays

The Tanzanian president is among several African leaders who have received orders for a herbal tonic touted by the president of Madagascar as a cure for Covid-19.

But the World Health Organization has warned against using untested medicine.

What did the US embassy say?

The US embassy statement advised Americans living in Tanzania to stay at home and limit interactions with people other than those they live with.

It went on to claim that hospitals in Dar es Salaam are overwhelmed and warned that due to the limited capacity of the healthcare system in the country, patients may face life-threatening delays for medical care.

The BBC asked the embassy to share its evidence but was referred to the Tanzanian ministry of health.

Story continues

More than four million people worldwide have contracted coronavirus, and the US has the highest number of infections – at least 1.3m – according to the John Hopkins University.

The director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, said on Tuesday that the US death toll was probably higher than the official figure of 80,000.

What is being said in Tanzania?

Government spokesman Hassan Abbasi told the BBC he had “no comment” in response to the US embassy’s statement.

The authorities have previously rejected accusations that the government was operating in secrecy and denial.

“The claims that Tanzania has wavered and isolated itself in the fight against Covid-19 are not true because Tanzania has provided leadership in the economic bloc of the Southern African countries (Sadc), which the country chairs, and it has continued to do so with respect and all efforts required,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Palamagamba Kabudi.

John Magufuli (R) was one of the first leaders to do the “Wuhan shake”

However, a prominent Tanzanian opposition leader has accused Mr Magufuli, who missed a key meeting of East African leaders on Tuesday to deal with the coronavirus crisis, of making the country a “pariah”.

Zitto Kabwe accused the president of “practising harmful policies” that would lead Tanzania to “unmitigated health and economic challenges”.

Several MPs from the main opposition party, Chadema, have boycotted parliamentary sessions because they fear catching the virus.

The party said it ordered its members to quarantine following the death of three MPs in April – though the deaths have not been linked to coronavirus.

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