Coughing and gasping his way through his statement, Tanzania’s Finance Minister, Philip Mpango attempted to reassure the media on the state of his health on Tuesday.
Mpango, who was filmed without a mask at the press conference alongside a doctor and a hospital director who were also maskless, sought to clarify that he was still alive after rumours began to spread across the country that he had died of COVID-19.
The minister whose voice trembled through his speech, coughed throughout his announcement that he was being discharged from the hospital after 14 days, sparking shocked responses to the footage on social media.
“I came to the hospital with my oxygen cylinder but in the last three days I did not use it because my health has improved,” he said, and went on to send condolences following the recent deaths of people in government and members of the public.
Tanzanians: Minister of Finance Dr Mpango is seriously ill, on a ventilator, due to COVID-19— Louis Jadwong (@Jadwong) February 24, 2021
Government: Dr Mpango is not very ill. Let's call a press conference and show you the Finance Minister. He does not even need to wear a mask.
VIDEO - THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/yrDWFJDLmg
Although the minister remarked that he was feeling better after his stay at the hospital, he did not disclose what illness he was suffering from. It follows a national trend in Tanzania of reporting deaths as being related to vague respiratory illness and pneumonia, rather than due to COVID-19.
The incident came just days after Tanzania's president finally admitted that the country has a COVID-19 problem. President John Magufuli previously denied that the country had any coronavirus cases, insisting that the virus had been defeated by prayer.
However after the deaths of government officials, Magufuli acknowledged the existence of the virus and encouraged citizens to wear masks, but only if they have been made locally in the country.
Just one day before Magufuli’s announcement, the World Health Organization had pleaded with Tanzania to share the state of COVID-19 and report the number of cases in the country.
“This situation remains very concerning. I renew my call for Tanzania to start reporting COVID-19 cases and share data,” WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this week. “I also call on Tanzania to implement the public health measures we know work in breaking the chain of transmission and to prepare for vaccination.”
While Tanzania has yet to respond to this call from the WHO, social media criticized Minister Mpango’s press conference. Opposition leader Tundu Lissu weighed in on the situation and took to Twitter to voice his opinions.
The politician wrote: “Has the intelligence of our leaders reached this level? Who allowed this patient to cough on people, instead of being in hospital for treatment or bed rest?”
Although the government has begun to take measures to fight the spread of the virus, physicians and citizens claim that the government is not taking the pandemic seriously. Speaking to Al Jazeera, Tanzanian physician Frank Minja explains that authorities have been referring to COVID-19 in general terms and using euphemisms to address the pandemic.
“[Health authorities would say,] ‘You have a viral pneumonia, you have very severe pneumonia, you have difficulty breathing’; we’re talking about inventing general terms,” Minja said.
He went on to explain: “We can’t just talk about infectious diseases in general. Yes, they have given advice in general, but we have to alert people that we have three methods that actually work against COVID-19: masks, washing your hands, and avoiding large crowds.”