Tanzania: US warns against travel as government rejects Covid vaccines

  • The US has put Tanzania on 'Level 3 — Reconsider travel due to Covid' status over fear of surge in cases
  • The Health Minister recently said Tanzania has no plans of accepting vaccines; country not on Covax distribution list
  • Amid the government repeatedly downplaying the virus, Tanzania risks facing international isolation over Covid denial
Tanzania: US warns against travel as government rejects Covid vaccines

The US embassy in Tanzania has warned of a surge in Covid-19 cases since January and issued a 'Level 3 – Reconsider travel' warning. The US currently advises against travel to Tanzania and travellers arriving into the US are required to present a negative test. The Tanzania government stopped reporting Covid data back in April 2020 and therefore, the number of actual cases (and deaths) in the country remain unknown. 

The US embassy also warned that healthcare facilities in Tanzania can become quickly overwhelmed and that limited hospital capacity "could result in life-threatening delays for emergency medical care". The warning comes as President John Magufuli and the government continue to downplay the virus in the country. Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima recently said the country has no plans of accepting Covid vaccines (including from Covax, the global alliance that ensures equitable access to vaccines) and cast doubts on the safety of vaccines and their efficacy. The Health Minister has instead encouraged the use of traditional herbal remedies as a natural means of killing the coronavirus. 

Tanzania's tone differs greatly from the rest of East Africa where governments are pushing for plans to procure as many vaccines as possible for their citizens. Kenya has plans to vaccinate its population in three phases, which started this month. Rwanda has started its first phase of vaccination even with the limited 1,000 doses it received of the Moderna vaccine, administering it to high-risk groups including some frontline workers. Uganda has already made a purchase order for 18 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca. 

Although the general disregard for Covid by the Tanzania government is worrying, it is worth noting the country’s health system has not faced significant strain as experienced in the West. There have been reports of overwhelmed ICUs, but these were confined to specific hospitals and not a country-wide concern. According to our contacts on the ground in Tanzania, cases are on the rise but the hospitalisation rate has not accelerated to the point where hospitals are inaccessible. Without official data, we assume this is similar to Kenya where the majority of Covid cases have been asymptomatic, which might explain the manageable hospitalisation rate. We also note that there hasn’t been significant cross-border infection rates being recorded from Tanzania with neighbouring countries like Kenya.

Our main concern is the growing risk of international isolation facing the country on account of the government’s Covid denial, which will come at an economic expense. Already the travel advisory from the US will impact tourism numbers (tourism is a key source of FX income). It is likely that other countries will follow suit. In the long run, rejecting Covid vaccines may pose a threat to Tanzania's international trade (there may be economic sanctions in the future tied to trade agreements to pressure the country to adopt a vaccine), thereby hampering the economic recovery that was expected after the election in October 2020.

Tanzania remains our least favoured economy as an investment destination in East Africa. The country is grappling with weak asset quality, a widening fiscal deficit and expected anaemic asset growth, making it less attractive to investors. We have Sell recommendations on the banks we cover: CRDB and NMB.

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