Tanzania's main opposition leader Tundu Lissu has claimed that President John Magufuli had died from the coronavirus.

The country's vice-president announced last night that Mr Magufuli, who had not been seen in public for nearly three weeks, had died in a hospital in Dar es Salaam from a heart condition he had suffered from for a decade.

But Mr Lissu, who ran and lost against Mr Magufuli in a disputed October election, said the 61-year-old leader had succumbed to coronavirus and the government was "lying even now that he is dead".

"Magufuli died of corona," said Mr Lissu from Belgium in an interview broadcast on Kenyan network KTN News, citing his sources. The claim could not be independently verified.

Mr Magufuli's unexplained absence from public view had fuelled rumours of his ill health, with his opponents insisting he had contracted Covid-19 and his illness was being kept under wraps.

The government repeatedly denied those allegations.

Mr Magufuli was one of a handful of world leaders who played down the coronavirus, championing alternative medicines and calling for prayer instead of face masks. 

The government stopped the publication of statistics in April 2020 when the country had recorded a total of 509 cases and 16 deaths, and later Mr Magufuli claimed prayer had beaten the disease.

Mr Lissu said it was "poetic justice" that Mr Magufuli had succumbed to a disease he ignored.

Tundu Lissu pictured in his home in Belgium last November

"President Magufuli did not wear a face mask. He actually denigrated anyone who wore face masks. He did not believe in vaccines, he did not believe in science," said Mr Lissu, who was shot multiple times in 2017 in what he called a politically-motivated assassination attempt.

"He placed his faith in faith healers and herbal concoctions of dubious medical value. And what has happened, happened. He went down with corona."

Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan has announced a 14-day mourning period.