Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, the first vice president of Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, has died at the age of 77, after falling ill with the coronavirus.
He had been in the hospital since Feb. 9, Zanzibari President Hussein Mwinyi said on national TV, without revealing the cause of death.
Hamad, from the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party, formed a government of national unity in the Indian Ocean archipelago after disputed elections last year. His party announced last month that he, his wife and other family members were hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Since 1995, the popular opposition leader ran for president of the islands in six consecutive elections and lost to ruling party candidates.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli has declared the East African nation free of Covid-19. He has shunned lockdowns, discouraged the use of face masks and banned the release of infection data since April, making Tanzania the only country in the world, besides insular North Korea, that doesn’t release the statistics.
“I am saddened by the news of Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad’s death,” Magufuli said on Twitter.
After a recent spike in hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus, Tanzania chief government spokesman Hassan Abbasi told the BBC this week that “you cannot say that Tanzania is coronavirus-free — what the president has said is that we have controlled the virus.