Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has called the coronavirus “just a little flu.” On Tuesday, he tested positive.
The 65-year-old leader had frequently resisted guidance from medical professionals in Brazil on avoiding infection, opting instead to mingle in crowds and shake hands. Like U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro embraced hydroxychloroquine to ward off Covid-19, despite the lack of evidence that the drug is an effective shield against the virus. However, in recent days, Bolsonaro had been wearing a mask in public and avoiding close physical contact with supporters after showing virus symptoms.
“I’m perfectly well,” Bolsonaro told journalists on Tuesday.
Brazil has become a global hotspot for the virus, trailing only the U.S. with more than 65,000 confirmed deaths and over 1.62 million total cases. It has implemented an erratic response to the pandemic, with the president often clashing with state governors and even his health minister over quarantine measures and possible treatments. Brazil’s health ministry is currently led by an interim chief after Bolsonaro fired his first minister and a second resigned.
Given Bolsonaro’s unguarded contact with so many people in a country where Covid-19 is spreading so quickly, it is hardly surprising that the virus found its way to him. As an argument for keeping the economy running, Bolsonaro has suggested that infection with the virus for most people is nearly inevitable. “Everyone knew that sooner or later it would impact a good part of the population,” he said Tuesday. “Life continues. But if the economy doesn’t work it will bring new forms of death and suicide.”
Bolsonaro has said he isn’t concerned about getting sick. “If I am infected by the virus, I wouldn’t have to worry,” Bolsonaro said in a speech in March. “I wouldn’t feel anything.”