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.

He died alone as his mother, wife and sister are also in hospital with coronavirus symptoms.

Opposition sources and journalists living in exile claimed that the despot had been undergoing treatment for Covid-19 at a hospital in Karuzi in the centre of the country after he fell ill over the weekend.

His widow Denise had been admitted to a private hospital in the Kenyan capital Nairobi late last month after suffering similar symptoms, according to Kenyan officials.

She was flown into Nairobi by Kenyan flying doctors on an air ambulance equipped with a portable isolation chamber.

An opposition source said that one of the country’s few ventilators had been flown by helicopter to Karuzi in a desperate bid to save the president’s life.

“It arrived too late,” he said. “He deteriorated very quickly.”

An entire block of the hospital was reportedly evacuated, and the late president was placed under the personal care of Burundi’s health minister, Thadée Ndikumana.

The source said Mr Nkurunziza died on Monday afternoon, although his death – as is often the case with sitting presidents in Africa – was kept quiet for more than 24 hours.