NAIROBI, Kenya — President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a populist chief who performed down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and steered his nation away from democratic beliefs, died on Wednesday within the port metropolis of Dar es Salaam. He was 61.

Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan stated in a quick televised tackle that Mr. Magufuli had died of coronary heart issues whereas being handled at Mzena Hospital. The announcement adopted more than a week of intense speculation that Mr. Magufuli was critically in poor health with Covid-19 — experiences that senior authorities officers had repeatedly denied.

Ms. Hassan didn’t specify Mr. Magufuli’s underlying sickness however stated that he had suffered from continual atrial fibrillation for greater than a decade. She introduced 14 days of nationwide mourning and stated that flags would fly at half-staff nationwide.

Based on the Tanzanian Structure, Ms. Hassan can be sworn in as president to serve the rest of the five-year time period that Mr. Magufuli started when he received re-election final October. The transfer will make her Tanzania’s first feminine chief.

Mr. Magufuli, a educated chemist, was first elected in October 2015 on an anticorruption platform. He was initially lauded for his efforts to bolster the economic system, stem wasteful spending and improve Tanzania’s infrastructure.

However the chief, popularly generally known as “the Bulldozer,” was quickly accused of muzzling dissent, rolling again freedom of expression and affiliation, and pushing by legal guidelines that shored up his Occasion of the Revolution’s grip on energy.

That marked a sharp departure from policies of his two immediate predecessors, who had promoted their East African nation as a peaceable, business-friendly democracy.

Throughout his first time period, Mr. Magufuli’s authorities banned opposition rallies, revoked the licenses of nongovernmental organizations and launched legal guidelines that critics stated repressed unbiased reporting. He additionally stated that pregnant girls should not be allowed in school.

Rights teams accused his authorities of failing to hold out credible investigations into the killings, abductions and persecution of journalists who had been vital of the federal government and opposition figures.

As Mr. Magufuli sought a second time period final fall, the authorities made it tougher for opposition events to marketing campaign, froze the financial institution accounts of civil society teams, denied accreditation to election observers and journalists, and refused to let opposition representatives into polling stations.

On voting day, not less than 10 folks had been killed when violence broke out within the semiautonomous archipelago of Zanzibar after citizens said they had seen soldiers delivering marked ballots.

Mr. Magufuli won that election with 84 % of the vote amid accusations of widespread fraud and irregularities. Tundu Lissu, the principle opposition candidate working towards him, was accused of trying to overthrow the government and needed to go away the nation. He stays in exile in Belgium.

Over the previous 12 months, Mr. Magufuli got here below intense criticism at house and overseas for his dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic. He railed towards masks and social distancing, promoted unproven cures as cures and stated that God had helped the country eliminate the virus.

Tanzania has not shared knowledge on the coronavirus with the World Well being Group since April, and it has reported simply 509 instances and 21 deaths, figures which were broadly seen with skepticism.

As vaccine rollouts started worldwide, Mr. Magufuli discouraged the Well being Ministry from securing doses for Tanzania.

“Vaccines don’t work,” he claimed in a speech to a maskless crowd in late January. “If the white man was in a position to give you vaccinations, then vaccines for AIDS would have been introduced. Vaccines for tuberculosis would have made it a factor of the previous. Vaccines for malaria would have been discovered. Vaccines for most cancers would have been discovered.”

Such statements drew condemnation from the World Well being Group in addition to the Roman Catholic Church in Tanzania. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O. regional director for Africa, urged the Tanzanian authorities to arrange the infrastructure to distribute the doses, writing on Twitter, “Science exhibits that #VaccinesWork.”

In February, the US Embassy in Tanzania warned of “a major enhance within the variety of Covid-19 instances” and stated that “restricted hospital capability all through Tanzania might end in life-threatening delays for emergency medical care.”

Mr. Magufuli’s demise got here simply days after hypothesis that he was sick with the virus. The rumors started swirling after Mr. Lissu, the opposition determine in exile, stated that the president had Covid-19 and was being handled in a hospital in neighboring Kenya.

Mr. Lissu urged the authorities to reveal the whereabouts of the president, who had not been seen in public for nearly two weeks. Mr. Magufuli didn’t attend a digital summit for leaders of the East African regional bloc on Feb. 27.

Tanzanian officers had dismissed the hypothesis and stated that Mr. Magufuli was working as ordinary.

After Mr. Magufuli’s demise was introduced on Wednesday, the chief of opposition get together Act Wazalendo referred to as on Tanzanians to indicate “endurance and understanding” because the nation undergoes a vital transitional interval.

“That is an unprecedented second,” the opposition get together chief, Zitto Kabwe, said in a statement, “one that may undoubtedly transfer us all in very private methods.”

John Pombe Joseph Magufuli was born on Oct. 29, 1959, within the district of Chato in northwestern Tanzania. He earned a bachelor’s diploma in schooling from the College of Dar es Salaam and, in 2009, a doctorate in chemistry from the identical college, according to the presidential office’s website.

Earlier than changing into president, he was a member of Tanzania’s Parliament and held quite a lot of cupboard posts. He developed a popularity for preventing corruption whereas working in cupboard positions, together with because the minister of lands, fisheries and public works.

Mr. Magufuli is survived by his spouse, Janet, a primary-school instructor; and two kids.