Burundi’s President Ushers In Dramatic Policy Shift on Covid-19

Burundi President Evariste Ndayishimiye declared the coronavirus pandemic the country’s “biggest enemy” and pledged to make testing widely available, marking a dramatic shift from earlier government policy advising citizens to rely on prayers.

Ndayishimiye was sworn in less than two weeks ago following the death in office of his predecessor, Pierre Nkurunziza, who died aged 55 after suffering a heart attack. Nkurunziza’s government had largely ignored the dangers of the pandemic, saying the country was being protected by God, and expelled four World Health Organization officials in May.

Burundi officially has 170 confirmed cases of the virus but testing was barely available in the countryside. Ndayishimiye said public-health guidelines will now be displayed across the country, health workers will be deployed immediately to areas where cases have been found to roll out mass testing and the price of water and soap will be cut by half.

Anyone who shows symptoms of Covid-19 but refuses to get tested “will be considered a sorcerer and treated as severely as one would be,” he said in a speech broadcast on state media. “Everyone must know the coronavirus is a pandemic, easily transmitted and kills if you take it lightly.”

Burundi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa and also one of its poorest, with only a few urban areas having access to electricity. A former rebel commander, Ndayishimiye was due to take over from Nkurunziza in August after winning a May election, but was sworn in last month after a court declared the presidency vacant.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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