Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for the coronavirus after months of downplaying the virus’s severity.
Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and speaking to reporters in the capital Brasilia.
“I’m well, normal. I even want to take a walk around here, but I can’t due to medical recommendations,” Bolsonaro said. “I thought I had it before, given my very dynamic activity. I’m president and on the combat lines. I like to be in the middle of the people.”
Bolsonaro, 65, said he is taking hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as a result of the positive test.
On Monday, Bolsonaro told supporters in Brasilia that he underwent an X-ray of his lungs that showed they were clean, and that he would be tested for coronavirus. On Tuesday, he told CNN Brasil that his fever had subsided.
Bolsonaro’s response to the coronavirus has been highly criticized. His government has seen two health ministers depart since the beginning of the pandemic, which has hit Brazil with a vengeance since May.
Bolsonaro has also extensively promoted the use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in response to COVID-19, despite skepticism among health experts over its efficacy.
Brazil, the world’s sixth most populous nation, with more than 210 million people, is one of the global hot spots of the pandemic. More than 65,000 have died there so far from COVID-19, and more than 1,500,000 have been infected. Both numbers are the world’s second-highest totals, and are considered to be undercounts due to the lack of widespread testing.
Staff members have previously tested positive
The president has often appeared in public to shake hands with supporters and mingle with crowds, at times without a mask. He has said that his history as an athlete would protect him from the virus, and that it would be nothing more than a “little flu” were he to contract it.
He has also repeatedly said that there is no way to prevent 70 per cent of the population falling ill with COVID-19, and that local authorities’ measures to shut down economic activity would ultimately cause more hardship than allowing the virus to run its course.
Bolsonaro on Tuesday repeated those sentiments, comparing the virus to a rain that will fall on most people, and that some, like the elderly, must take greater care.
“You can’t just talk about the consequences of the virus that you have to worry about. Life goes on. Brazil needs to produce. You need to get the economy in gear,” he said.
Bolsonaro said he has cancelled a trip to the northeast region that was planned for this week. He will continue working via video conference and receive rare visitors when he needs to sign a document, he said.
Over the weekend, the Brazilian leader celebrated the U.S. Independence Day with the nation’s ambassador to Brazil, then shared pictures on social media showing him with his arm around the ambassador alongside several ministers and aides. None wore masks, despite being in close quarters.
The U.S. Embassy said on Twitter on Monday that Ambassador Todd Chapman is not showing any COVID-19 symptoms but would be tested.
Bolsonaro tested negative three times in March after meeting with President Donald Trump in Florida. Multiple members of his delegation to the U.S., including his communications director Fabio Wajngarten, were later reported to be infected with the virus.