Universities in Tanzania reopened on Monday, June 1, 2020, despite a lack of clarity on the spread of coronavirus after the government decided to stop updating figures in April.
As students entered dozens of campuses across Tanzania for the first time since mid-March, there were only cursory efforts to impose measures preventing the spread of COVID-19.
New hand-washing stations were spottily used while crowded lecture halls made a mockery of social distancing, leaving some students concerned.
“My parents were not happy to allow me back to the college, but there’s no way since it’s the government order to resume classes,” said Christopher Andrew, one of around 6,000 students at Dar es Salaam University College of Education.
In one lecture hall, a teacher admonished students after most removed their masks as they sat down.
“Next time, if you don’t wear a mask you will not get access to my class,” the lecturer warned.
Student Aisha Abdul said it was impossible to follow hygiene guidance.
“It’s difficult to sit a metre apart because the course has a lot of students and that means space is not enough to comply with social distancing principles,” she said.
Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has consistently downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, and his government has not released official infection figures since April 29, when a total of 480 cases and 16 deaths had been recorded.
A government spokesperson said figures were not being released to avoid panic.
“Absence of data is actually my biggest worry,” said one concerned student, who did not want to be named. “If the trend shows decreasing cases then why should they worry to give us hope?”
“We are forced to believe that COVID-19 cases have dropped,” he said, adding that despite the uncertainty, “I need to finish my degree, so there’s no way I can dodge classes.”
Others, however, welcomed the reopening as a chance to see friends and get out of their homes.
“I was bored staying home. This is the moment I have been waiting for!” said Salha Juma, adding that he would “take precautions”.
The political opposition, foreign governments, and activists have all criticized Tanzania for hiding information.
“It’s important we get complete and regular information so that we know the direction and can take relevant decisions,” said Onesmo Ole-Ngurumwa, national coordinator of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition.