The outgoing president of Burundi has died of a sudden illness, suspected by many to be Covid-19.
The cause of Pierre Nkurunziza’s death was described as a heart attack in a government statement. The 55-year-old was due to stand down in August following elections last month.
It was unclear exactly when he died. A government statement said the president, a keen sports enthusiast, had attended a game of volleyball on Saturday but fell ill that night and was taken to hospital.
The former footballer’s health improved on Sunday but “surprisingly, on morning of Monday June 8, 2020, his health suddenly deteriorated and he had a heart attack”. The statement described Nkurunziza’s death as “unexpected” and asked people to remain calm. Seven days of mourning have been announced.
Nkurunziza had refused to impose restrictions in the small and poor African country, allowing sporting events and mass political rallies to go ahead.
Speculation about the cause of his death has been fuelled by unconfirmed reports that his wife was flown to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, 10 days ago after contracting Covid-19.
Authorities in Burundi have been accused of deliberately playing down the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected 197,000 people on the African continent and killed more than 5,000.
The nation of 11 million people has reported 83 cases of Covid-19 and officials have cited divine protection for Burundi’s ostensibly low infection rate and urged citizens to go about their daily lives without fear.
Nkurunziza’s spokesperson said that although the country may be hit by the pandemic, “Burundi … has signed a special covenant with God, whether you believe it or not”.
Burundi refused to follow most other African nations in imposing a lockdown and expelled the World Health Organization’s expert team working on coronavirus.
Nkurunziza was forced to step aside after 15 years in power by opponents within the country’s ruling CNDD-FDD party.
(Reporting by The Guardian)