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Tanzania opposition MPs to ‘isolate’ after string of deaths

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Tanzania’s main opposition party on Friday asked its lawmakers to stop attending parliament sessions and isolate themselves after three MPs died of unknown causes in the past 11 days.

Freeman Mbowe, the chairman of the opposition Chadema party, has repeatedly accused the government of covering up the true extent of the coronavirus and implied the MPs had died from the disease.

Tanzania’s Minister for Constitution and Legal Affairs Augustine Mahiga, also an MP, was the latest to die, passing away on Friday aged 74, with no official explanation for his death.

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Last month, the parliament announced that one MP had tested positive for the virus.

“We regret to continue receiving the deaths of MPs and other Tanzanians caused by the COVID-19 infections,” Mbowe said in a statement.

The government has not commented on the cause of their deaths, issuing statements only to announce their passing and convey condolences.

Mbowe called on parliament to suspend its business for at least 21 days and test all MPs, parliament staff and their families.

“We believe more strict measures are needed to protect the lawmakers as well as the wider Tanzanians. As the authorities are yet to make decisions, we want our MPs to be safe by immediately isolating,” he said.

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By Wednesday, Tanzania had confirmed 480 cases of the coronavirus and 16 deaths, the only update it has given in the past nine days.

Regular updates were being given until President John Magufuli on April 22 said the ministry of health was “causing a panic” with their announcements of cases and deaths.

Tanzania is one of few countries in Africa that has not taken extensive measures against the virus, and Magufuli is among a handful of world leaders still playing down the seriousness of the disease.

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.

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“As the world is passing through trying times following the coronavirus outbreak, let us keep working hard. Coronavirus should not pull us back from serving Tanzanians. I believe God will make us move ahead,” he said in a message to civil servants on May 1.

Mbowe on Wednesday said that Magufuli was in a “state of denial”.

Another official, the district commissioner of the Mtwara region in southeastern Tanzania, died on Sunday, of what the government referred to in a statement as “respiratory challenge”.

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