TANZANIA’S main opposition leader has said President John Magufuli, an avowed coronavirus skeptic out of public view for nearly two weeks, is in India receiving medical treatment for Covid-19 and is in a serious condition.
Tundu Lissu, who lost last year’s election to Magufuli, on Thursday cited medical and security sources in Kenya for his information that the president had been transferred from a hospital in Kenya to India and was in a coma – but did not provide evidence.
Tanzanian government spokesmen have stayed mum during days of speculation over the 61-year-old Magufuli’s whereabouts and health.
In power since 2015 and nicknamed “The Bulldozer”, Magufuli was last seen on February 27 looking his normal robust self during a ceremony at State House in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city.
Lissu told the news agency Reuters that Magufuli was flown to Kenya’s Nairobi Hospital at the start of this week and then on to an unknown destination in India. “He’s comatose since yesterday morning,” he said, without elaborating.
Kenya’s Nation newspaper cited unidentified political and diplomatic sources on Wednesday saying that an African leader, which it did not name, was being treated for Covid-19 on a ventilator at a Nairobi hospital.
India’s foreign ministry and its high commission in Nairobi had no immediate comment.
‘Covid denialism in tatters’
Magufuli has played down the threat from Covid-19, saying God and remedies such as steam inhalation would protect Tanzanians. He has mocked coronavirus tests, denounced vaccines as part of a Western conspiracy to take Africa’s wealth, and opposed mask-wearing and social distancing.
“His Covid denialism in tatters, his prayer-over-science folly has turned into a deadly boomerang,” Lissu tweeted in the early hours of Thursday.
According to Tanzania’s constitution, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan would take over for the rest of the five-year term if the president is unable to discharge duties.
World Health Organization’s Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti, told a news conference on Thursday that she had no direct information on Magufuli’s health and it would be unwise to speculate. She noted that Tanzania now recognised the danger of Covid-19 following two senior officials’ death and said more data would be welcome.
“Whatever is the case with President Magufuli, we can only wish him well if these stories are indeed true, and we very much reiterate our preparedness to support the government and the people of Tanzania,” she said.
Tanzania stopped reporting coronavirus data in May last year when it said it had 509 cases and 21 deaths, according to data held at the WHO. In January, Magufuli said vaccines for the disease were “dangerous”.
“Vaccines are not good. If they were, then the white man would have brought vaccines for HIV/AIDS,” he said earlier this year.
However, in February in a surprise change in the official stance on coronavirus, Magufuli said the government had not forbidden the wearing of masks and encouraged those who wanted to do so.
However, he warned against what he claimed were faulty face coverings on sale in the country, suggesting that high coronavirus-related death rates worldwide could be linked to the uptake of such products and claiming those in Tanzania’s rural areas were less likely to fall victim to the virus because they tended not to wear them.
“The government has not forbidden mask-wearing. But we have to be careful about which masks we wear. We will perish. Don’t think we’re loved so much. Economic war is bad,” Magufuli told a congregation at a church service in Dar-es-Salaam.
“These masks which we buy in the shops- we’re killing ourselves,” he argued, before advising Tanzanians to either to make the masks themselves or use those produced locally.