BRASILIA – The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has announced live on television he has tested positive for coronavirus.
“It came back positive,” a mask-wearing Bolsonaro told a hand-picked group of reporters on Tuesday lunchtime outside his official residence.
“There’s no reason for fear. That’s life,” the president added. “Life goes on. I thank God for my life and the role I’ve been given to decide the future of this great nation that is called Brazil.”
Bolsonaro, 65, has repeatedly trivialized the pandemic and flouted social distancing, even as Brazil became the second-worst-hit country after the United States, with more than 65,000 deaths and 1.6m confirmed cases.
In March, as Covid-19 claimed its first victims in Brazil, the far-right populist used an address to the nation to brag that, if infected, he would quickly shake off the illness thanks to his “athlete’s background”.
Since then, Bolsonaro has continued to attend social events and political rallies, often wearing masks incorrectly, or not wearing them at all.
After announcing his positive result on Tuesday, Bolsonaro stepped back from the reporters he was addressing, removed his mask and, grinning, said: “Just look at my face. I’m well, fine, thank God … Thanks to all those who have been praying for me … and to those who criticise me, no problem, carry on criticising as much as you like.”
Bolsonaro also continued to undermine what he called “overblown” and panic-inducing attempts by Brazilian governors and mayors to slow the spread of the virus through shutdowns and social distancing.
“Some authorities even forbade people from going to the beach,” Bolsonaro complained, before claiming: “The majority of Brazilians contract this virus and don’t notice a thing”.
Bolsonaro’s diagnosis comes just three days after he had lunch at the home of the US ambassador to Brazil, Todd Chapman, in the capital, Brasília.
Also present at that Independence Day celebration were several top cabinet members, including the foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, defense minister, Fernando Azevedo, and the president’s son, Eduardo, a politician who is Steve Bannon’s representative in South America. The men were photographed without face masks.
Reports of Bolsonaro’s possible infection first emerged on Monday evening, with local news outlets reporting that he had been tested after developing coronavirus symptoms, including a 38C temperature and a persistent cough.