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Tanzanian president’s absence fuels health concern

Tanzania’s main opposition leader has demanded information on the health of President John Magufuli whose recent absence from public view has brought speculation he is receiving medical attention abroad.

In a terse tweet posted late on Tuesday, Tundu Lissu Said the president’s wellbeing was “a matter of grave public concern”, and asked to know what the government was hiding about Mr. Magufuli’s health.

Mr. Lissu’s remarks came amid rumours on Tanzania’s social media that Mr. Magufuli, Africa’s most prominent COVID-19 sceptic, may have the virus. There was however no confirmation from the Tanzanian and Kenyan authorities.

“It’s a sad comment on his stewardship of our country that it’s come to this: that he himself had got COVID-19 and be flown out to Kenya in order to prove that prayers, steam inhalations and other unproven herbal concoctions he’s championed are no protection against coronavirus!” Mr. Lissu said, without providing any proof.

There has also been widespread speculation in the traditional media.

Kenya’s Nation newspaper quoted unnamed political and diplomatic sources as saying “the leader of an African country who has not appeared in public for nearly two weeks” had been on a ventilator in Nairobi with COVID-19.

Sixty-one-year-old Mr. Magufuli, who is nicknamed “The Bulldozer,” was last seen in public on February 27 looking his normal self as he swore in a new chief secretary at State House in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

Reuters cited an unnamed  senior Tanzanian doctor close to the government who said Mr. Magufuli, who recently won a second presidential term, has a history of heart issues.

President Magufuli has consistently downplayed the threat of COVID-19 in Tanzania and scoffed at global panic. He urged Tanzanians to put faith in prayer and homespun remedies, such as steam inhalation rather than vaccines, which he said were dangerous and part of a Western conspiracy.

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