Tanzanian COVID-Denying President Dies After Weeks of Absence

Tanzanian President John Magufuli has died at age 61 after a two-week absence from the public, fueling rumors that he had contracted COVID-19.

Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced in a televised address on March 17 that Magufuli has died of a heart ailment at Mzena hospital in Dar es Salaam, where he was receiving treatment.

Hassan also declared 14 days of national mourning and to fly flags at half mast.

Magufuli, who had repeatedly denied that COVID-19 was spreading in Tanzania, had not been publicly seen since Feb. 27, prompting online rumors that he was sick from the virus.

Opposition leader Tundu Lissu told BBC News last week that Magufuli contracted COVID-19 and was receiving treatment in a hospital in Kenya.

“He has never worn a mask. He has been going to mass public gatherings without taking any precautions that people are taking all around the world,” Lissu told the broadcasting company.

However, government officials told citizens to ignore the rumors and insisted that Magufuli was working as usual.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa insisted last week that Magufuli was “healthy and working hard.”

“To spread rumours that he’s sick smacks of hate,” Majaliwa said last March 12.

Last March 15, the police said they had arrested four people across the country since last week for allegedly spreading false information on the health of politicians.

Following Magufuli’s death, Hassan becomes the acting president and will become the east African country’s first female president once sworn in. She will serve the remainder of Magufuli’s five-year term, which he started last year.

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