‘Reckless’ Bolsonaro tests positive for Covid-19
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, who has railed against social distancing measures and repeatedly downplayed the threat of the coronavirus as the epidemic in his country became the second-worst in the world, said on Tuesday that he, too, has been infected.
Critics at home and abroad have called Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic cavalier and reckless, allowing the virus to surge across Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation. At one point he dismissed it 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 the caseload has skyrocketed, Bolsonaro has attended mass rallies in his support, shunned masks, insisted that the virus poses no threat to healthy people, championed unproven remedies and shuffled through health ministers who disagreed with him.
Brazil now has more than 1.6 million confirmed cases and more than 65,000 deaths — more than any country except the US.
Speaking to journalists outside the presidential palace in Brasília shortly after noon on Tuesday, Bolsonaro, said he had taken a test on Monday after experiencing fatigue, muscle pain and a fever.
He said he was feeling “very well”, which he credited to having taken hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug he has endorsed but which studies show does not ward off the virus. Covid-19 cases that become serious usually take a turn for the worse about a week after symptoms emerge.
Bolsonaro did not express contrition for his handling of the pandemic, and voiced confidence that he would manage to work from home during the next few days while he recovers. He characterised the diagnosis as a predictable outcome of a leadership style that requires that he be among the people, on the “front lines of the fight”.
“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,” he said. “Just like the majority of the Brazilian people who contract the virus and don’t perceive the problem.”
Standing just a few feet away from journalists, the President took off his mask so reporters could see his face. “Thank you to all those who prayed for me, cheered for me. Those who have criticised, no problem, you can continue to criticise at will.”
Even as several of Bolsonaro’s aides have tested positive for the virus in recent months, the President has often eschewed precautions.
Most recently, Bolsonaro and a handful of his ministers attended a luncheon at the residence of Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brazil. Because attendees sat shoulder-to-shoulder during the 4th of July event, and refrained from wearing masks, Chapman has adopted precautionary measures.
As Brazilians awaited the results of the President’s latest coronavirus test, messages posted on social media illustrated how polarised the country had become.
Two trending hashtags on Twitter Tuesday morning were #ForçaBolsonaro and #ForçaCorona — the first sending the President strength and the other effectively expressing hope that the President would fall ill.
When she heard the news, Day Medeiros, a 31-one-year-old community activist in Santa Cruz, a working-class neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, said she was immediately worried about how Bolsonaro supporters there would receive it. Hers is one of the neighbourhoods with the highest contingent of Bolsonaro voters in the city.
“My concern is that he will use this to say, ‘See, I’m fine, if you catch this you will survive,’” she said. “Everything that happens to him has real repercussions in how people behave here. This is really serious.”
New York Times News Service