Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for COVID-19, after months of downplaying the virus’ severity while deaths mounted rapidly inside the country.
Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and speaking to reporters in capital Brasilia.
He said he is taking hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug that has not been proven effective against COVID-19.
"I'm well, normal. I even want to take a walk around here, but I can't due to medical recommendations,” Bolsonaro said. “I thought I had it before, given my very dynamic activity. I’m president and on the combat lines. I like to be in the middle of the people.”
The president told reporters he underwent an X-ray of his lungs on Monday after experiencing fever, muscle aches and malaise. As of Tuesday, his fever had subsided, he said, and attributed the improvement to hydroxychloroquine, which he, like President Donald Trump, has long promoted.
'Life goes on'
The 65-year-old populist has often appeared in public to shake hands with supporters and mingle with crowds, at times without a mask. He has said that his history as an athlete would protect him from the virus, and that it would be nothing more than a “little flu” were he to contract it.
He has also repeatedly said that there is no way to prevent 70% of the population falling ill with COVID-19, and that local authorities' measures to shut down economic activity would ultimately cause more hardship than allowing the virus to run its course.
On Tuesday Bolsonaro repeated these sentiments. "You can't just talk about the consequences of the virus that you have to worry about. Life goes on. Brazil needs to produce. You need to get the economy in gear,″ he said.
Over the weekend, the Brazilian leader celebrated American Independence Day with the US ambassador to Brazil, then shared pictures on social media showing him in close quarters with the diplomat, several ministers and aides. None wore masks.
The US embassy said on Twitter that Ambassador Todd Chapman is not showing any COVID-19 symptoms but would be tested.
Bolsonaro tested negative three times in March after meeting with Trump in Florida. Members of his delegation to the US were later reported to be infected.
COVID-19 hot spot
The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, wished Bolsonaro a speedy recovery and said his infection “brings home the reality of this virus" by showing that it doesn't distinguish between “prince or pauper.”
Brazil, the world's sixth-biggest nation, with more than 210 million people, is one of the outbreak's most lethal hot spots. More than 65,000 Brazilians have died from COVID-19, and over 1.5 million have been infected.
Both numbers are the world’s second-highest totals, behind those of the US, though the true figures are believed to be higher because of a lack of widespread testing.
Cities and states last month began lifting restrictions that had been imposed to control the spread of the virus, as deaths began to decline along with the occupancy rate in intensive care units.