After Dismissing Virus Threat, Brazil President Tests Positive

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, wearing a face mask with a logo of the Federal Police, leaves his official residence of Alvorada Palace in Brasilia on May 26. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

(CN) — After months of downplaying the deadly pandemic’s severity, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced Tuesday that he has tested positive for Covid-19.

Bolsonaro announced on Brazilian TV that he has contracted the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus and nonchalantly said it was only a matter of time before he was infected.   

More than 65,000 Brazilians have died of the virus since the outbreak began, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University track. Second only to the U.S. in terms of both death toll and total positive tests, South America’s largest country has more than 1.6 million confirmed cases.

But the nation’s soaring body count has not stopped Bolsonaro from brushing off lockdowns, social distancing measures and other widely accepted public health recommendations meant to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The 65-year-old conservative president has continued to attend luncheons with ministers and encouraged the public to take part in rallies, even while multiple aides reportedly tested positive

To curb the spread, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies passed a bill that requires those in public to wear face masks. Bolsonaro sanctioned that bill last week, but maintaining his consistent minimization of the crisis’ impact, he vetoed an article requiring masks to be worn by people in “commercial and industrial establishments, religious temples and teaching premises.”

Bolsonaro told reporters outside the presidential palace in the capital city of Brasília on Tuesday that he took his fourth coronavirus test within four months after experiencing symptoms such as fever, fatigue and muscle soreness. 

“Considering how much contact I have with the people, which was a lot during the past few months, I assumed I would have already caught it without developing symptoms,” Bolsonaro said. “Just like the majority of the Brazilian people who contract the virus and don’t perceive the problem.”

He assured reporters that he is now feeling “very well,” partially attributing his well-being to treatments with hydroxychloroquine — an antimalarial drug that studies have shown is not an effective treatment for Covid-19. 

Despite having no scientific evidence to back up their claims that it helps treat symptoms of Covid-19, both Bolsonaro and President Donald Trump have publicly touted the drug on numerous occasions.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration rescinded its emergency use authorization of the drug last month after several studies found it to be ineffective. A small number of contrasting reports, such as a recent peer-reviewed study released by Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System, show the drug is “associated with a significant reduction in hospital mortality” for Covid-19 patients.  

Outside the hydroxychloroquine controversy, Bolsonaro has repeatedly butted heads with top health experts around the world over the seriousness of the virus, deeming the outbreak a “small crisis” and dismissed preventive measures as “hysteria.”

His response to the surge in infections was greeted with protests and falling poll numbers, though he has maintained much of his stalwart base.

The right-wing leader tweeted on June 6 that disease totals coming out of the country did not accurately portray the situation in Brazil. Soon after, he ordered officials to stop releasing infection and death totals to the public, but was overruled by the country’s supreme court. 

Alberto Beltrame, the president of Brazil’s national council of state health secretaries, responded in a scathing statement that condemned Bolsonaro’s accusations of inaccurate data as an “authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical attempt to make those killed by Covid-19 invisible.”

Beltrame added, “We and Brazilian society will not forget them, nor the tragedy that befalls the nation.”

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