NAIROBI, March 17 (Reuters) – Tanzania’s leadership appeared to play down rumours about President John Magufuli’s health on Wednesday when the vice president sent greetings to a coastal region from the head of state, absent from public view for more than two weeks.
Speculation in East Africa is rife that Magufuli, 61, a vocal COVID-19 sceptic, is ill with the coronavirus, though government officials have said Magufuli is working normally and citizens should ignore rumours from outside the country.
Speaking on a visit to the coastal Tanga region, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said Magufuli had asked her to remind them to maintain peace and develop the region.
“…I would like to send you greetings from our president who has asked me that when I’m in Tanga I should remind you to continue maintaining peace and tranquillity and work hard to fast track your regional development so that investors can stay here forever,” said Hassan, according to state television.
She also said the president had asked her to thank the people for voting for him in last year’s election. Hassan did not specifically mention the president’s health in her remarks.
Magufuli was last seen in public at an event in Dar es Salaam on Feb.27. On Tuesday, an opposition leader urged the government to tell the public about the president’s health, saying citizens had the right to know about his condition.
Some Tanzanians have told Reuters on condition of anonymity that fear and anxiety are widespread in the country due to the unknown status of the president. Police have arrested four people in the country since last week for allegedly spreading false information about the sickness of political leaders.
The president has denounced measures to stop the spread of the virus and called vaccines a Western conspiracy, frustrating the World Health Organisation (WHO). (Reporting by Nairobi newsroom Writing by Maggie Fick, Editing by William Maclean and Howard Goller)
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