Burundi Expels WHO Team helping coronavirus efforts days before polls

The announcement comes just days before Burundians go to the polls on May 20 to choose a new president, parliamentarians and local officials.
Burundiís incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza (C) reacts to supporters as he arrives to the opening of the campaign of the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), in Gitega, central Burundi, on April 27, 2020, ahead of the Presidential and General election scheduled for May 20, 2020 despite the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Tchandrou Nitanga / AFP)

Burundi has expelled a World Health Organisation (WHO) representative and three senior health experts coordinating the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, just days before a presidential election.

The Foreign Ministry wrote a letter to the WHO Africa head offices in Brazzaville on Wednesday, asking that the four officials leave the country, but did not specify the reasons., it 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 directive, dated May 12, expels 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, an AFP report said.

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

The landlocked country of some 11 million has officially recorded 27 cases and one death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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.

Rights groups say the government is pressing ahead with the vote no matter the cost, and accuses the ruling party and its youth wing of crushing dissent and threatening those taking their own measures against coronavirus.

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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.

The country closed its main airport to international flights. But it has attracted public criticism for going on with planned elections due May 20 by allowing public rallies and gatherings.

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