Flags dip for virus-sceptic Tanzania head

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Australia will fly its national flag at half-mast to mark the death of Tanzania president John Magufuli, a prominent coronavirus sceptic.

The Commonwealth Flag Officer issued a notice requesting "all buildings and establishments occupied by Australian government departments and affiliated agencies" lower their flags.

Mr Magufuli, a former chemistry professor, died on March 17 from heart disease.

The "mark of mourning and respect" issued in Canberra is in line with a protocol that states "on the death of the head of state of another country with which Australia has diplomatic relations - the flag would be flown at half-mast on the day of the funeral or as directed".

The president had mocked coronavirus tests, denounced vaccines as a foreign conspiracy to take Africa's wealth and opposed mask-wearing and social distancing.

Tanzania stopped reporting coronavirus data in May 2020 after it announced 509 cases and 21 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

Nicknamed the "Bulldozer" for his reputation of muscling through policies despite strong opposition, Mr Magufuli has been accused of authoritarianism, intolerance and human rights abuses.

But the populist leader was also applauded for his aggressive anti-corruption stance and pursuit of big infrastructure projects.

Mr Magufuli disappeared from public view for 18 days before his death was announced.

Government officials had denied he was ill, claiming he was just busy.

His absence from public life feed speculation he was critically ill with COVID-19, which has not been confirmed.