The central African nation of Burundi expelled the four foreign experts coordinating the COVID-19 response in their country: Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) coronavirus coordinator, Dr. Jean Pierre Mulunda Nkata, communicable diseases head, Dr. Ruhana Mirindi Bisimwa, and a laboratory expert in the testing for COVID-19, Professor Daniel Tarzy.
In a letter dated May 12 and addressed to WHO’s Africa headquarters, the foreign ministry said the four officials “are declared persona non grata and as such, must leave the territory of Burundi” by Friday.
“It is the whole WHO team responsible for supporting Burundi in its response against COVID-19,” a Burundian official told AFP news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They are expelled and the health minister has totally excluded WHO, accusing it of unacceptable interference in its management of the coronavirus.”
The move comes less than one week before the eleven million people of Burundi hold their national elections on May 20.
Burundi has recorded 27 cases of coronavirus and one death attributed to the disease that is currently plaguing the entire world.
Do not be afraid. God loves Burundi and if there are people who have tested positive, it is so that God may manifest his power in Burundi,” said General Evariste Ndayishimiye, the presidential candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party.
“If there have been three cases here… I’m told they are doing well, and know the coronavirus is killing people everywhere else,” he told supporters at a political gathering last week.
“I want to encourage you. Nobody should lie to you that there is a pandemic called coronavirus. That is bound to happen but lucky are those that believe in God’s protection. It has claimed so many lives in other parts of the world but God has protected Burundi from that virus,” the General said during a party event. “Other (countries) people are in lockdown but God has decided Burundi people to dance and jubilate as they enjoy life freely because of God,” Gen. Ndayishimiye said.
Burundi is shockingly devoid of social distancing standards though the international airport in Bujumbura was closed three weeks ago. There have been no efforts at lockdowns and businesses remain open. Hand-washing stations have recently been introduced at the entrance to many shops and restaurants. Public sporting events are still being held with spectators required to wash their hands and subject to a temperature check. Churches and Mosques remain open while weddings and funerals are being held as normal.
The emphasis on elections actually makes sense in Burundi where political tensions have proven to be far more deadly than the pandemic. After the last elections in 2015, a failed coup resulted in more than one thousand dead and hundreds of thousands fleeing to neighboring countries. The current campaign has been accompanied by violence and humanitarian violations.
The country is also suffering from a malaria outbreak that affected an estimated nine million and serious food shortages. Recent flooding in recent weeks has displaced around 40,000 people near Bujumbura.