President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a prominent COVID-19 skeptic in Africa whose populist rule often cast his East African country in a harsh international spotlight, has died. He was 61 years old. Magufuli's death was announced on Wednesday by Vice President Samia Suluhu, who said the president died of heart failure, the AP reports. "Our beloved president passed on at 6pm this evening," said Suluhu on national television. "All flags will be flown at half-mast for 14 days." Although the vice president said the cause of Magufuli’s death was heart failure, opposition politicians had earlier alleged that he was sick from COVID-19. Magufuli had not been seen in public since the end of February and top government officials had denied that he was in ill health even as rumors swirled online that he was sick and possibly incapacitated from illness.
On Saturday, police said a man who spread rumors that the president was ill had been arrested and other arrests would follow. Magufuli was one of Africa's most prominent deniers of COVID-19. He claimed last year that Tanzania had eradicated the disease through three days of national prayer. Tanzania has not reported its COVID-19 tallies of confirmed cases and deaths to African health authorities since April 2020. But the number of deaths of people experiencing breathing problems reportedly grew and earlier this month the US embassy warned of a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Tanzania since January. First elected to the presidency in 2015, Magufuli was serving a second five-year term won in 2020 elections that the opposition and some rights groups said were neither free nor fair.
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