ARUSHA – Tanzania President John Pombe Magufuli who once denounced the coronavirus pandemic as a western conspiracy has now died of the virus, vice-president Samoa Suluhu Hassan announces.
In a televised address on Wednesday night, Hassan said Magufuli who was hospitalized at a local hospital has died of heart complications.
He was 61.
Speculation in East Africa had been rife that Mr Magufuli, a vocal COVID-19 sceptic, had been ill with the disease, though government officials said he was working normally and citizens should ignore rumours from outside the country.
He had been absent from public view for some two weeks.
Earlier in the day, Vice-President Hassan said during a visit to the coastal Tanga region that Mr Magufuli had asked her to remind them to maintain peace and develop the region.
She also said the president had asked her to thank the people for voting for him in last year’s election, but she didn’t specifically mention the president’s health.
Mr Magufuli was last seen in public at an event in Dar es Salaam on 27 February by an opposition leader who urged the government to tell the public about the president’s health, saying citizens had the right to know about his condition.
Reports of his death were widely circulated on Wednesday morning and a government seemed to be cracking down on those writing if the president’s health after a reporter who wrote that the president has died was arrest.
Police had also last week arrested four people country for allegedly spreading false information about the sickness of political leaders.
Some Tanzanians had told Reuters on condition of anonymity that fear and anxiety are widespread in the country due to the unknown status of the president.
The president has denounced measures to stop the spread of the virus and called vaccines a Western conspiracy, frustrating the World Health Organisation