Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli has long said the country has no cases of coronavirus – REUTERS
Pressure is building on the Tanzanian government to disclose the whereabouts of President John Pombe Magufuli after reports that the controversial East African leader had left the country to seek Covid-19 treatment abroad.
Mr Magufuli, who has regularly denied that coronavirus is present in Tanzania and recommended herbal remedies over masks despite pleas from doctors and religious leaders, was last seen in public on Feb 24 in Dar es Salaam.
On Wednesday, Kenya’s daily newspaper, The Nation, quoted unnamed sources saying that “the leader of an African country who has not appeared in public for nearly two weeks” was on a ventilator in Nairobi with Covid-19.
Nairobi staff at the International Crisis Group said Mr Magufuli and “most of his family” were being treated at Nairobi Hospital. Western diplomats told The Telegraph that they had also heard Mr Magufuli was in hospital abroad with coronavirus.
Commenting on the reports, Ugandan journalist and commentator, Charles Onyango Obbo, tweeted: “He gets to fly to a Nairobi hospital, while those who listened to him stay home inhaling eucalyptus steam & hanging on to prayers.”
On Tuesday, opposition leader and 2020 presidential candidate Tundu Lissu said the public had a right to know whether he was hospitalized with the virus and if so, where.
“The President’s well-being is a matter of grave public concern. We’re informed when [former president] Kikwete had prostate surgery. We’re not kept in the dark when [former president] Mwalimu fought leukemia. What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?” Mr Lissu said on Twitter.
Tanzanian truck drivers entering Kenya queue to be tested for the coronavirus at the border – Brian Inganga /AP
President Magufuli declared the East African country free of the disease last year and officially stopped registering the number of cases and deaths from coronavirus in May 2020. At the time, the country had registered 509 cases and 21 deaths.
Opposition politicians and activists have accused the government of a coverup and said it is not taking the pandemic seriously enough.
Last month, he said that Tanzania has “managed to defeat these respiratory diseases through prayer last year. I am sure we will do so this year.”
The government has also rejected mask wearing, social distancing and vaccines against the advice of the World Health Organization, encouraging the use of herbal remedies such as steam inhalation and lemon and ginger teas instead.
“Tanzanians must be mindful so that we are not used for trials of some doubtful vaccinations which can have serious repercussions on our health,” the leader has told local media.
WHO director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the situation in Tanzania is “very concerning.”
But days before his last appearance, Mr Magufuli appeared to soften his stance on the virus, telling churchgoers on Feb 21 to listen to the advice of health experts and wear face masks, but only those locally-made. Masks coming from abroad could not be trusted, he said.
Tanzania has witnessed several high-profile deaths from Covid-19, including the vice-president of Zanzibar Maalim Seif Sharrif Hamad and Chief Secretary, John Kijazi.