Tanzanian PM rejects claims COVID-19-denying leader is unwell

NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) — Tanzania’s President John Magufuli is well, the country’s Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said on Friday, rejecting opposition claims that the COVID-19-denying president, who’s been out of public view for nearly two weeks, is seriously sick with the virus.

The prime minister said Magufuli is busy with office duties, and called on the public to ignore widespread reports that he is unwell. “He is fine and doing his responsibilities,” Majaliwa said, without disclosing the president’s whereabouts.

Magufuli had controversially claimed that Tanzania has defeated COVID-19 through prayer last year and that there were no more cases.

The prime minister said Magufuli, who has not been seen in public for 13 days, asked him to convey his greetings to residents in the country’s southern town of Njombe. “The president has a lot to do,” he said, adding that the president had delegated some duties to his aides. Magufuli’s absence is unusual as he is known for frequent public speeches and appearances on state television several times a week.

Opposition politicians also raised questions about the president’s health after at least one official close to him died recently.

Magufuli was last seen in public on February 27 at the swearing-in ceremony of his Chief of Staff. The event was at the State House government offices in Dar es Salaam, the East African country’s largest city.

On Thursday, Constitutional Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba issued threats to those speculating on the president’s absence.

“A head of state is not a head of a jogging club who should always be around taking selfies,” Nchemba posted on his social media accounts. “Those who are breaking the law, think about what the penal code says on cybercrime.”