Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday he tested positive for the novel coronavirus after months minimizing the severity of the pandemic and defying medical experts, even as the virus has killed more than 66,000 people in his country.
The right-wing populist gave the news to reporters at his official residence standing just inches away from him, adding to criticism of his cavalier approach to the outbreak in Brazil, the world’s worst outside the United States. Even as he announced his infection, the 65-year-old former army captain dismissed the dangers of the virus and credited unproven treatments for his mild symptoms.
“If it weren’t for the test, I wouldn’t know the result. And it turned out positive,” he told the television cameras, adding he had started to feel sick on Sunday and grown worse on Monday, with a fever, muscle pains and exhaustion.
The president said he was taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug with unproven effectiveness against COVID-19.
Finishing the interview with three TV channels, Bolsonaro stepped back and removed his mask to reveal a smile, adding: “You can see from my face that I’m well and I’m calm.”
The Brazilian leader repeated his claim on Tuesday that the risks of COVID-19 were exaggerated and most Brazilians did not need to worry: “Be assured that for you the chance of something more serious is close to zero.”
After his diagnosis, Bolsonaro said he would keep working via videoconference and “rarely receive one person or another to sign a document.”
Pan American Health Organization director for communicable diseases Marcos Espinal wished Bolsonaro a “speedy recovery” but said his infection carried a message. “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.”
Brazil registered 45,305 new cases over the last 24 hours and 1,254 additional deaths, the nation’s Health Ministry said Tuesday, bringing the nation’s tally to 1,668,589 and the death toll to 66,741.
Brazilian financial markets retreated after news of Bolsonaro’s infection, with Brazil’s currency swinging into negative territory and its main stock index falling as much as 1.7 percent.