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Burundi expels WHO COVID-19 team, declares them ‘persona non grata’

By Francis Ogwo

Burundian government in response to an allegation of interference in its management of COVID-19 has ordered that a World Health Organization (WHO) representative and three other experts coordinating the coronavirus response in the country, be expelled immediately.

This is coming from the country’s Foreign Ministry through a letter dated May 12, and addressed to WHO’s Africa headquarters.

In addition to their expulsion, the Foreign Ministry said the four officials “are declared persona non grata and as such, must leave the territory of Burundi” by Friday.

The officials affected in the directive include WHO’s top official in Burundi, Doctor Walter Kazadi Mulombo, the country’s coronavirus coordinator, Doctor Jean Pierre Mulunda Nkata, communicable diseases head, Doctor Ruhana Mirindi Bisimwa, and a laboratory expert, Professor Daniel Tarzy, responsible for testing for COVID-19.

An anonymous official of Burundi had disclosed that “It is the whole WHO team responsible for supporting Burundi in its response against COVID-19.

“They are expelled and the Health Minister has totally excluded WHO, accusing it of unacceptable interference in its management of the coronavirus.”

Reasons for the decision was said to have been excluded in the letter, but diplomatic and administrative sources revealed that a similar attempt was aborted by the Foreign Ministry to expel the same team of four officials, a month ago.

An official revealed that the government’s decision is coming a few days away from Burundi’s presidential election on May 20th.

Reports say the country, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, is not relaxing it’s plans for the elections with the news of the first recorded cases in the country.

Campaigns have also been reported to have flouted the social distancing rules with crowded rallies and widespread accusations of President Pierre Nukurunziza’s reluctance to impose policies amidst traces of authoritarianism alleged by a cross-section of the political groups.

This, according to reports has put Burundi’s neighbors at risk.

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