President John Magufuli has cast doubt on the country’s coronavirus testing process after he allegedly submitted secret samples from invalid subjects, including a goat and a papaya (yes, the fruit), that came back as “positive” for the virus.
Magufuli suspended the head of testing at Tanzania’s national health laboratory in response to the alleged errors on Monday, one day after revealing that he had flooded the lab with a variety of samples from things the virus shouldn’t be able to infect.
Magufuli, who has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus, claimed on Sunday that he put human names and ages on several samples taken from non-human subjects. He says the lab came back with positive test results for a papaya, a quail and a goat — three things that have never been linked to the virus in the past.
Magufuli claimed that there is a “dirty game” going on at the laboratory, and announced that his security forces would be investigating the test kits. He did not say where the lab got its kits.
“The equipment or people may be compromised and sometimes it can be sabotage,” Magufuli said in a speech to the nation, which was broadcast through the country’s state-run news outlet.
The supposed false positives suggest that Tanzania’s infection numbers might not be accurate, Magufuli said. He also stoked concerns about accepting foreign aid.
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“There is something happening,” Magufuli said. “I said before we should not accept that every aid is meant to be good for this nation.”
He also claimed that he was sending a plane to collect a bit of foreign aid from Madagascar’s president, who has been touting a bogus herbal remedy for the virus.
“The medicine will be brought in the country so that Tanzanians, too, can benefit,” he said.
The country hasn’t reported any new data on COVID-19 infections since Sunday, when the numbers stood at 480 cases and 17 deaths. That’s likely because the country’s testing lab is now under investigation.
Tanzania has been accused of politicizing virus data in the past. Last fall, for example, it refused to share samples collected for Ebola testing with the international community amid a broader outbreak in Africa. Tanzania’s officials claimed there was a plot to show the country in a “bad light” at the time.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press