Wednesday July 17, 2024

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro tests positive for coronavirus

Bolsonaro says he is feeling "perfectly well" and has only mild symptoms

July 07, 2020
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. — AFP/Files 

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro announced on Tuesday he had tested positive for the coronavirus but said he was feeling "perfectly well" and had only mild symptoms.

The far right leader has caused huge controversy in Brazil for repeatedly flouting containment measures and minimizing the risk of the virus, which has killed 65,000 people in the South American giant and infected 1.6 million.

The test "has come out and it's positive," Bolsonaro said in a television interview from his residence in the capital Brasilia, adding that he was taking hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat the illness.

Hydroxychloroquine is a medication usually used to treat malaria and lupus, while azithromycin is an antibiotic that can be used to treat pneumonia.

At 65, Bolsonaro is in one of the highest risk categories for a virus that has killed more than half a million people worldwide and infected close to 12 million.

Bolsonaro said he started feeling unwell on Sunday and got worse on Monday, feeling "tiredness, illness and a fever of 38 degrees" Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit).

But he insisted he was feeling "good, calm" and took off his face mask to emphasize the point.

"Life goes on. We're going to take care, particularly of old people and those with illnesses that are a risk factor," he added before repeating his mantra that the "collateral effects" of the virus should not be worse than the illness itself.

President among the people

On Monday, he announced he had taken a test and told CNN Brazil that he underwent an X-ray of his lungs at a military hospital as a precaution.

Since the beginning of the virus outbreak, Bolsonaro has minimized the risks of what he initially called "a little flu" while flouting social distancing rules and containment measures, such as wearing a mask in public.

"I'm the president ... I like to be among the people and given that intense contact, I thought I could have already caught it previously without knowing," said Bolsonaro, admitting that he wasn't surprised at the test result.

Bolsonaro confirmed press reports that he had cancelled his engagements over the coming days and would work by video conference from the official residence while receiving medical treatment.

Brazil is the second worst-hit country in the world by the pandemic after the United States.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, had been tested three times previously — all came back negative.

In March, he claimed the virus could not seriously affect him because of his "athletic past" and that since being stabbed in the abdomen on the campaign trail in 2018, a "little flu" couldn't floor him.

He's also been criticized for a perceived lack of empathy to virus victims.

When the number of deaths in Brazil climbed past 5,000, Bolsonaro, whose middle name means messiah, said: "So what? I'm sorry. What can I do? I'm Mesias but I can't do miracles."

Competing Twitter hashtags 

On Monday, he watered down for a second time a law that would require citizens to wear face masks in public.

On Saturday, Bolsonaro published photos on social media in which he is not wearing a face mask at a lunch with the US ambassador and several ministers celebrating the July 4th holiday.

Brazil has never rolled out a unified strategy to tackle the coronavirus crisis and there have been clashes between state governors and the federal government.

Bolsonaro has also parted ways with two health ministers during the crisis over strategy disagreements.

One of the main points of disagreement was Brazil's decision to recommend the use of the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat the COVID-19 disease despite a lack of scientific consensus on its potential effectiveness.

Under Bolsonaro's watch, Brazil has become increasingly politically polarized and news of his positive result set social media channels raging.

The hashtags "come on corona" and "come on Bolsonaro" were both trending on Twitter.