Coronavirus: Controversial world leader tests positive after talking down virus

Reuters
·3-min read

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for the novel coronavirus after months of playing down the severity of the disease.

The right-wing populist told a group of television reporters he developed symptoms at the weekend.

"It started on Sunday with a certain malaise and became worse throughout the day on Monday, feeling poorly, exhaustion, a bit of muscle ache, fever hit 38 [degrees celsius]," he said on Tuesday (local time).

Finishing the interview, he stepped back and removed his mask to reveal a smile.

"You can see from my face that I'm well and I'm calm," he said.

Mr Bolsonaro said he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug with unproven effectiveness against COVID-19.

Photo of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wearing a face mask after announcing he has COVID-19.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus. Source: Getty Images

Mr Bolsonaro has emulated his political role model Donald Trump in voicing skepticism about the virulence of the virus, even as the pandemic killed more than 65,000 people in his country.

He had previously described the coronavirus pandemic as simply a “little flu”. "We're all going to die some day,’ he reminded Brazilians in March.

Mr Bolsonaro tested negative in March for the coronavirus after several aides were diagnosed following a visit to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.

The positive test on Tuesday looks set to spark a frantic period of contact tracing and tests for those who met Bolsonaro in recent days, including Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, lender Banco Bradesco's chairman Luiz Carlos Trabuco and planemaker Embraer's chief executive Francisco Gomes Neto.

Over the weekend, Mr Bolsonaro was also in close contact with US Ambassador Todd Chapman during July 4 celebrations.

Pictures showed neither wearing a mask.

President sacked two health ministers

Brazil has the world's second-largest outbreak behind the US, with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases.

Mr Bolsonaro has drawn criticism from public health experts for fighting state and city efforts to impose social distancing, arguing that the economic damage of those orders is worse than the disease itself.

He has fired two health ministers during the crisis, both trained doctors, and replaced them with an active duty army general on an interim basis.

He joins a list of government leaders to become infected with the coronavirus, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, both of whom were treated in hospital and needed extra oxygen.

Photo of President Bolsonaro not wearing a face mask. He has tested positive for coronavirus.
President Bolsonaro has been playing down the severity of the virus for months. Source: Getty Images

Pan American Health Organisation director for communicable diseases Marcos Espinal wished Mr Bolsonaro a "speedy recovery" but said his infection carried a message.

"The message is that this virus is unpredictable and does not respect race, class or people in power, despite security around any president," Espinal said.

"For Brazil, the infection of its president should reinforce the need to strengthen implementations of social distancing recommendations and the use of masks to mitigate the spread of coronavirus," he added.

Mr Bolsonaro has often defied local guidelines to wear a mask in public, even after a judge ordered him to do so in late June. He has also railed against social distancing rules supported by the World Health Organisation.

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