After months of downplaying the new coronavirus, and even hugging supporters in the middle of a pandemic, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for COVID-19.
The President announced his test result on Brazilian TV on Wednesday morning (Australian time) saying he had a high temperature and a cough but was now feeling better.
“Everyone knew that it would reach a considerable part of the population sooner or later. It was positive for me,” Mr Bolsanaro said.
“On Sunday, I wasn’t feeling very well. On Monday, it got worse when I started feeling tired and some muscle pain. I also had a 38-degree fever. Given those symptoms, the presidential doctor said there was suspicion of Covid-19.”
He was taken to hospital where he received a lung scan. Mr Bolsonaro is in a higher-risk group because of his age, 65.
Mr Bolsonaro said as part of his treatment he was taking the controversial anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, an antibiotic.
Hydroxychloroquine has been enthusiastically embraced by both Mr Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump but has not been proven to be an effective treatment for COVID-19.
“I’m well, normal. I even want to take a walk around here, but I can’t due to medical recommendations,” Mr Bolsanaro 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.”
Mr Bolsonaro has consistently rallied against social-distancing measures and played down the threat of the virus to his country, which has become the second-worst hit in the world.
With more than 1.6 million confirmed cases by Wednesday morning, Brazil has currently the second-highest number of cases worldwide.
Mr Bolsonaro has downplayed the virus, which has killed 65,000 Brazilians, as “a measly cold” and when asked in late April about the rising death toll, he replied “So what? Sorry, but what do you want me to do?”
As case numbers increased he has appeared in public and at rallies without a mask – sometimes even hugging supporters.
He has accused local officials of inflating the numbers to make his government look bad and encouraged his followers to break local lockdown, insisting the virus is no threat to healthy people.
He maintains that the economic closures will hurt the country more than the loss of lives, saying in March: “Our life has to go on. Jobs should be maintained.”
Mr Bolsonaros’s response has caused a bitter division in the country, with his opponents blaming him for the high death toll. Many of them have taken to banging their pots and pans out windows in the evenings to show their outrage.
Brazil’s response is currently being lead by an active-duty army general with no public health experience after two health ministers were forced from their jobs for clashing with the President over his response to the pandemic.
Speaking to the Brazilian broadcaster GloboNews, one of the President’s former health minsters Luiz Henrique Mandetta said his positive test result raised questions over Mr Bolsonaro’s behaviour.
“Going around Brasília, without a mask, hugging people … he was flirting with infection – and he was infected,” he said.
Mr Mandetta said there was an “extremely high probability” Mr Bolsonaro would recover fully but noted that within Brazil’s capital nearly all the intensive care units were on the verge of collapse.
On Monday night Mr Bolsonaro’s son, Carlos, attacked critics of his father.
“The immense number of people rooting for the death of the head of the executive right now should trigger an immediate show of solidarity from other [political] leaders,” Carlos Bolsonaro tweeted.
Although he has attacked the World Health Organization over the information it has supplied during the pandemic declaring he was considering cutting funds to it, the agency wished him a speedy recovery.
“It’s very important to understand the seriousness of this virus and to be really serious,” noted WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing in Geneva.
“No country is immune, and no country is safe, and no individual can be safe.”