Nicaraguan president reappears after more than a month out of public eye

Slideshow ( 2 images )

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega appeared on Wednesday in a live broadcast on national television after being absent from public life for a month, raising questions about his health and whereabouts as the world reels from the novel coronavirus.

Ortega, a 74-year-old former leftist guerrilla with chronic illnesses, gave no explanation for his 33-day absence but said that the Central American country is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak responsibly.

“We have not stopped working, because if the people do not work, they die,” said Ortega. “We are a country of working people, people that will not die of hunger.”

Ortega’s health has been a closely guarded secret and his absence from public life led to speculation about it.

Over the years, Ortega has suffered two heart attacks and developed high cholesterol and other ailments, an official told Reuters last week. Since then, the president has been increasingly protective of his health, the official said.

Now in his second stint as president after orchestrating a constitutional change to allow for re-elections, Ortega said that Nicaragua has the lowest number of coronavirus infections, registering only nine cases and one person died.

“We have the capacity to attend to coronavirus patients,” Ortega said.

Public health experts have questioned the accuracy of the official figures and urged the government to report how many people have been tested for the coronavirus.

Nicaragua is one of the few countries that does not have social distancing measures, does not prohibit mass gatherings and has not canceled school and university classes as recommended by the World Health Organization.

Reporting by Islmael Lopez; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; editing by Grant McCool