The president of Tanzania’s semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, Hussein Ali Mwinyi, announced the death of Zanzibar’s first vice president, Seif Sharif Hamad, on television, without saying the cause.

But Janeth Rite, deputy secretary for ideology and publicity of Hamad’s opposition ACT-Wazalendo party, told Reuters: “He has died of Covid-19.”

A day earlier, the party’s leader, Zitto Kabwe, had tweeted: “Denying the truth about the spread of the coronavirus in Tanzania, and therefore not urging the public to take precautions to protect themselves, has led to a lot of people getting sick, hospitals becoming overwhelmed and the elderly and others losing their lives.

“A lot of deaths are being caused by the government.”

The government spokesman, Hassan Abbasi, did not return calls and messages seeking comment. On 31 January, ACT-Wazalendo said that Hamad, his wife and several aides had tested positive for Covid-19, cases that did not show up in official statistics.

The Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, has earned a reputation as one of the world leaders most sceptical of efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Western countries and neighbours have increasingly expressed concern that official denials mask a rampant outbreak that could turn the country of 58 million people into a reservoir of infection.

The government stopped reporting statistics for new cases and deaths in May last year at a time when it had registered 509 cases and 21 deaths.

Magufuli dismisses masks and social distancing, and has refused to order any vaccines for his country, saying last month that they “are not good. If they were, then the white man would have brought vaccines for HIV/Aids.”

On Friday, Abbasi told Reuters that, while Tanzania was not entirely coronavirus-free, it had “controlled” it.



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