Tourism thrives on 'PPE-free' island of Zanzibar despite vice-president dying from Covid

  • Video report from ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

Tanzania is a coronavirus-denying country. It has buried its head in the sand so tourists still come to play in it. And Russians in particular do continue to risk it, attracted by accessibility and the absence of restrictions. The Tanzanian government doesn’t want anyone investigating this denial policy too closely, so we had to travel to the island of Zanzibar posing as tourists.

There is no data on coronavirus in Tanzania; no facts available, so the evidence we gathered was circumstantial and anecdotal. President John Magufuli was one of the world’s best known deniers. His burial took place on Friday. The suspicion remains that he was a victim of coronavirus, although when his death was announced last week, heart disease was blamed. The vice-president of Zanzibar also passed away recently. However Seif Sharif Hamad insisted on letting it be known that he was a coronavirus fatality.

President John Magufuli Credit: AP

His nephew showed us the vice-president’s personal diary, in which he chronicled his dying days. On January 24, an entry in his handwriting notes that both he and his wife tested positive. On January 28, he lists the names of five members of his staff also found to have contracted coronavirus. All of them and his wife recovered, but he died on February 17. Zanzibar is PPE-free. We saw very few people in masks and social distancing was non-existent.

Zanzibar vice-president Seif Sharif Hamad (left) with President John Magufuli (right)

It’s no great surprise. Their president told them the illness had been prayed away. He ridiculed vaccines and testing programmes. Opposition politicians say he did it to save Tanzania’s tourism-dependent economy and because he enjoyed thumbing his nose at the rest of the world. So Zanzibar remains something of a fool’s paradise.

The rest of the world knows that Tanzania is peddling a false negative, and in the long term that could prove costly as this delusional country risks being left behind, particularly in the absence of any vaccine programme.