John Magufuli, the president of Tanzania and one of Africa’s most vocal COVID sceptics, has died.
The 61-year-old had been out of the public eye since 27 February, prompting speculation that he was critically ill with COVID-19.
Mr Magufuli’s main election rival had suggested he was flown to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi for treatment, while other reports claimed that he had been transferred to India in a coma.
Tanzania’s Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said Mr Magufuli died of a heart condition at a hospital in Dar es Salaam, one of the country’s largest cities.
Unconfirmed reports of the president’s death had emerged last week – hours after officials said Mr Magufuli was in good health and working normally.
The African leader had become notorious for his views on coronavirus. In June last year, he declared the country of 60 million people “free” of COVID-19 after three days of prayer.
Mr Magufuli also resisted imposing lockdowns – and condemned preventative measures such as social distancing and the closure of shops and restaurants.
The president dismissed testing kits as faulty and described vaccines as “not good” – all while insisting inhaling steam and eating potatoes could cure COVID.
He first won the presidency in 2015 and had faced accusations from Western countries and opposition parties of eroding democracy.
Mr Magufuli was also nicknamed “The Bulldozer” because of his reputation for pushing through policies despite opposition.
Tanzania’s constitution states that the vice president should assume the presidency for the rest of the five-year term that began in 2020.
This would make Samia Suluhu Hassan the East African nation’s first female leader.
Boris Johnson was among the world leaders who paid tribute to Mr Magufuli, tweeting: “My thoughts are with his loved ones and the people of Tanzania.”