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image copyrightSTATEHOUSE TANZANIAimage captionPresident Samia has assured Tanzanians that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe

People in Tanzania are being actively encouraged to get Covid-19 vaccinations in a dramatic change of policy for one of Africa's most populous countries.

A vaccination drive gets under way after Tanzania rejects its former president's Covid scepticism.

At the front of the campaign is the new President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, who just got her jab.

The man she replaced, John Magufuli, played down the virus, calling for prayer instead of vaccines and masks.

After he died in March of heart complications, Ms Samia set up a task force on coronavirus.

Officially, the country of 58 million people has recorded 29 deaths with coronavirus and 858 cases but there are fears the true numbers are greater.

The World Health Organization recently warned of a surge of cases across Africa, reporting a week-on-week rise in deaths of 43%.

At the weekend Tanzania received just over one million doses of the single-jab Johnson & Johnson vaccine, under a global scheme to help poorer countries fight the virus called Covax.

Getting her jab on Wednesday, President Samia said: "We are not an island and that is why now we are starting vaccination."

She urged all Tanzanians to get vaccinated and said the country would get more doses.

She said she had received several vaccines since childhood and was taking this one because she knew it was safe.

One part of Tanzania has already been vaccinating people – the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar started their own campaign about two weeks ago, using China's Sinovac vaccine.

Tanzania's government has also banned unnecessary gatherings to stop the virus spreading.

When Magufuli died, there were rumours he had caught coronavirus himself.

He had taken the view that Tanzania did not need Covid vaccines, calling them "dangerous", and promoting various natural remedies not accepted by international health experts.

In a sign of how much has changed, Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima called the vaccination drive "historic" and urged people to get jabbed, saying the government planned to vaccinate at least 60% of the population.

Under Magufuli, the same minister had promoted herbal steam, exercise, good food and "natural remedies" instead of vaccines.

Public attitudes to Covid precautions still appear quite relaxed, with most people walking about without masks, and public opinion remains divided over the safety of vaccination, reports the BBC's Aboubakar Famau in the capital, Dodoma.

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media captionTanzania's ex-President Magufuli laid to rest in his home town