The Tanzanian Government has vigorously denied reports that President John Magufuli, Africa’s most prominent Covid-19 denier, had been admitted in a Kenyan hospital and later flown to India, for covid related complication.
Although the President has denied the existence of Covid in Tanzania,the General Secretary of the Catholic Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC), Father Charles Kitima, last week announced that more than 25 priests, 60 nuns and two elders of the laity died within two months of various causes including respiratory issues, in the pandemic that has largely gone unreported but which has ravaged the country.
President Magufuli disappeared from public sight 17 days ago. Now, he is widely rumored to be seriously ill with the same virus that he has dismissed and downplayed over the past year.
Last May, Magufuli declared that “Tanzania has beaten coronavirus” after ordering three days of national prayer. The president abruptly stopped updating the number of cases, and assured foreign tourists that Tanzania’s game parks and Indian Ocean resorts were open for business, leading to a wave of travel advisories cautioning travelers to avoid the country.
Since then, he has scoffed at wearing masks, criticized regional neighbours for imposing lockdowns, and rejected coronavirus vaccines until his government independently verifies them. In early January, Magufuli told the visiting Chinese foreign affairs minister, Wang Yi, that “there is no coronavirus in Tanzania.”
Then, after appearing at an event in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam on Feb. 24, Magufuli disappeared from public view.
The death last month of Zanzibar’s first vice president, Seif Sharif Hamad , days after he announced he was hospitalized with the virus, and the death of Magufuli’s chief secretary at State House and head of the civil service, John Kijazi, from an unspecified illness exposed what many worried was the true extent of the pandemic.
There have been reports of local hospitals being overrun by patients displaying Covid-19 symptoms, and shortages of critical care beds, oxygen and ventilators across major towns and cities in the country. The government denies these reports.
This week, the leading newspaper in neighboring Kenya, the Daily Nation, wrote : “The leader of an African country who has not appeared in public for nearly two weeks is admitted to Nairobi Hospital for Covid-19 treatment, even as his government remains mum on his whereabouts.”
Within hours, speculation was rife that Magufuli had been secretly flown to Nairobi for emergency medical attention and later airlifted for treatment in India. Insider has not been able to confirm these reports.
“Over the past month, the country has lost university professors, army generals, doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals of high public standing,” Lissu an opposition leader told Insider. “It is highly irresponsible, and in my view criminal, for the president to continue to deny the presence of coronavirus, spurn international help and repudiate the vaccines.”
On Friday, government officials addressed the rumor for the first time and insisted that Magufuli was alive and well, but offered no proof.
“President Magufuli is in good health and continues to carry on with his normal duties,” Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said in a statement from his office. “I spoke to him (Magufuli) today and he sends his greetings to you,” Majaliwa insisted.
Tanzania confirmed its first coronavirus case in March 2020, but a month later Magufuli – who has a PhD in chemistry – questioned the accuracy of the test results that confirmed the result. Cumulative cases had reached 480 people and 16 had been reported dead from the coronavirus by April 29, but Magufuli ordered the country’s Health Ministry to stop releasing updates.
On Feb. 27, three days after his last public appearance, the government announced that Magufuli had presided over the swearing in of a senior public official and attended a virtual regional summit for the East African Community (EAC) trade bloc.
It was later revealed that Magufuli did not, in fact, attend the EAC summit after all, and was instead represented by his Vice President, Samia Suluhu Hassan.
Since then, Magufuli has remained conspicuously absent from public view, missing his customary Sunday church attendance for two consecutive weeks, an oddity for the devout Catholic.
Unlike other East African countries, which have urged social distancing and encouraged the use of masks, it’s been business as usual in Tanzania. Public buses are crowded with passengers, with few wearing masks, while pubs and night clubs have been full of revelers. Local league matches at football stadiums and music festivals are ongoing across the country, usually packed to capacity.