Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus after spending months flouting public health guidelines and dismissing the threat posed by a pandemic that has killed more than half a million people worldwide.
Bolsonaro, 65, said Monday that he had been tested for the virus and that an exam had showed his lungs were “clean.” Bolsonaro told reporters Tuesday that his test came back positive, CNN Brazil reported.
The far-right leader began showing some symptoms of the coronavirus over the weekend, according to Brazilian news reports. His positive test result comes just days after he attended a Fourth of July lunch celebration with Todd Chapman, the United States ambassador to Brazil, in Brasilia.
After announcing his positive result on Tuesday, Bolsonaro removed his mask while backing away from reporters and told them, “There is no need to panic.” Bolsonaro, who claimed he had already taken the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine as part of his treatment, also said he would self-isolate.
The Brazilian president has long been dismissive of the virus, even as hundreds of thousands of people in his country have tested positive. He has called COVID-19 a “little flu,” urged local governors to lift lockdown orders and continued to step out in public without any major precautions, including venturing into crowds without a face covering and shaking hands with the public.
“We are sorry for all the dead, but that’s everyone’s destiny,” he said last month as cases rose dramatically.
Bolsonaro was tested for the virus at least three times in March after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, and all those tests came back negative.
A Brazilian judge ordered Bolsonaro to wear a mask in public last month after he attended a spate of political rallies without one, even as cases surged throughout the country. At the time, the judge said no one was “above the law” and that the president had a “clear intent to break the rules.”
More than 1.6 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Brazil, and at least 65,000 people have died there. Only the U.S. has had more cases and more deaths.
In June, Brazil removed detailed numbers on coronavirus cases from the Health Ministry’s website, claiming without evidence that the figures had been inflated by local officials. The country’s Supreme Court ordered the data to be restored days later amid claims that Bolsonaro’s government had attempted to mask how severe the outbreak had grown in the country.
The government’s efforts to interfere with coronavirus data came even as positive tests spread through the top echelons of the Brazilian government. In March, Bolsonaro’s top press secretary and nearly two dozen other Brazilian government officials tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling to Florida to meet with Trump at Mar-A-Lago.
Since the coronavirus outbreak hit Brazil, Bolsonaro has fired one health minister and seen another resign amid disputes over social distancing measures and the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus. He has also battled with state governors who have advocated a more forceful approach to the virus as it hammers the country.
In March, Bolsonaro dismissed concerns about catching COVID-19 himself by saying that his “history as an athlete” would allow him to easily beat it.
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