Burundi Removes Top WHO Team Handling Coronavirus Pandemic

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Burundi has ordered the removal of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) expert team organizing the country’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, just days before a presidential election. 

In a letter to WHO Africa headquarters, The foreign ministry of Burundi, on Wednesday, said the UN agency’s representative in Burundi and his three colleagues “are declared persona non grata and as such, must leave the territory of Burundi” by Friday.

The order, dated May 12, expelled are WHO’s top official in Burundi, Doctor Walter Kazadi Mulombo, the country’s 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.

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“It is the whole WHO team responsible for supporting Burundi in its response against COVID-19,” a Burundian official said at a recent interview, 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.”

According to the Diplomatic and Administrative Sources, the letter does not provide a reason for the decision. The foreign ministry aborted a similar attempt to expel the same four officials a month ago.

The decision comes just days before Burundians go to the polls on May 20 to elect a new president, parliamentarians and local officials.

Burundi, a country that has a population of about 11 million has officially recorded 27 cases and one death from COVID-19.

But it has taken few precautions against the disease and testing is low, fuelling concern that the true extent of the outbreak is not known.

However, Rights Groups say the government is forging ahead with the vote no matter the cost. They also accuse the ruling party and its youth wing of crushing dissent and threatening those taking their own measures against coronavirus.

Officials in Burundi earlier cited “God’s protection” for the country’s ostensibly low infection rate and urged citizens to go about their daily lives without fear of contracting the virus.

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