John Magufuli, the populist president of Tanzania since 2015, died at age 61 on Wednesday after not being seen in public since the end of February.
Magufuli’s vice president, Samia Suluhu, announced his death on national television, saying he died at a hospital in Dar es Salaam of heart failure, The Associated Press reported.
“Our beloved president passed on at 6 p.m. this evening,” Suluhu said. “All flags will be flown at half-mast for 14 days. It is sad news. The president has had this illness for the past 10 years.”
But critics alleged that Magufuli, who was internationally recognized as a COVID-19 skeptic, died of the disease that has spread around the world, according to the AP.
The East African leader’s death comes after government officials have dismissed claims that the president was sick and potentially incapacitated from an illness.
Magufuli, who was serving a second five-year term, had declared last year that Tanzania had gotten rid of the coronavirus after three days of national prayer. The late president then criticized social distancing and wearing masks and expressed doubt about the COVID-19 vaccines.
The East African country has reported 509 COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. It has not reported coronavirus data since April.
Earlier this month, the U.S. embassy cautioned that the number of COVID-19 cases in Tanzania had increased since January.