Burundi president has become the first head of state to die of COVID-19, according to medics at the hospital where he was flown to following his death.
The revelation comes at a time government officials insisted that he died of heart attack. The country’s government had announced Pierre Nkurunziza’s cause of death as from a heart attack. According to AFP, a medical source at the Karusi hospital where Nkurunziza died confirmed the president was in ‘respiratory distress’ before his death.
Medics at the Kamenge university hospital in Bujumbura told AFP that the head of the institute of public health requested their hospital’s only ventilator and the head of our reanimation service ‘in the name of the presidency’ on Monday at 10am’. The president was flown to the hospital in Karusi, but it was ‘too late,’ he was ‘already dead,’ a medical source in Karusi said. Suspicions had been high the president had Covid-19 after his wife was hospitalised at the end of May with the virus.
A medical document seen by AFP said she had tested positive for the virus and suffered ‘respiratory distress.’ The African country announced Nkurunziza’s ‘unexpected’ death on June 9 declaring a national week of mourning. The government has yet to announce a date for his funeral, but is marking the seven-day period of national mourning, during which it has banned music in bars, nightclubs and karaoke, a statement said Thursday. Nkurunziza had reportedly felt unwell on June 6 and ‘to very great surprise’ his health worsened, leading to a cardiac arrest from which he died in hospital, officials had said.
His wife Denise was airlifted for coronavirus treatment in Kenya on May 30, prompting some suspicion about the president’s true cause of death. Nkurunziza was due to leave office in August after a controversial 15-year term marked by claims of repression and human rights abuses. It was announced on Friday that Burundi’s constitutional court has agreed that president-elect Evariste Ndayishimiye should be sworn in immediately after the death of Nkurunziza. Nkurunziza took office in 2005 under a power-sharing deal following a 12-year civil war which left 300,000 people dead.
His decision to run for a disputed third term in 2015 plunged the country into violence, leading to hundreds more deaths. Facing allegations of widespread abuses, his government became the first country to leave the International Criminal Court in 2017. Human Rights Watch says the police and ruling party are known to carry out ‘widespread human rights abuses’ including killings and arbitrary arrests. Nkurunziza’s party was confirmed as the winner of May’s election last week, paving the way for the first peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1962.
The outgoing president had backed retired army general Ndayishimiye as his successor and saw him win nearly 70 per cent of the vote. The opposition National Freedom Council (CNL), headed by Agathon Rwasa, had alleged the May 20 election was riddled with fraud and irregularities. In the event of a president’s death, the constitution provides for the speaker of parliament to take over in such a situation.
Legally, the Speaker of parliament, Pascal Nyabenda, should have become the interim leader.