Brasilia, Jul 7 (efe-epa).- Brazil, the country with the second-highest totals of coronavirus cases and deaths, learned Tuesday that President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been famously dismissive about the severity of the pandemic, tested positive for Covid-19 and is undergoing treatment with hydroxychloroquine.
“It began Sunday with a brief mild illness,” he told reporters at the presidential palace, hastening to add that he felt “perfectly fine” at the moment.
Bolsonaro wore a mask for the press conference, though he did not maintain the recommended 2m (6ft) distance from the journalists.
The right-wing president, who often refers to the disease responsible for more than 500,000 deaths worldwide as a “measly flu,” has spent the last few months flouting the recommendations of both domestic and international health experts.
While denouncing mayors and Brazil’s 27 state governors for the restrictions they have imposed to slow the spread of the virus, the 65-year-old leader has made a habit of wading unmasked into crowds of his supporters, embracing people and posing for selfies.
With 1.63 million confirmed cases and more than 65,500 deaths, Brazil trails only the United States in the number of Covid-19 infections and fatalities.
“I confess that I thought I had caught it a few months ago,” Bolsonaro said Tuesday, pledging to quarantine himself and conduct official business via tele-conference.
Last Saturday, the president visited the Brasilia residence of Washington’s ambassador to Brazil, Todd Chapman, for a celebration of the US July 4th holiday.
Photos of the event showed attendees, including Chapman, Bolsonaro and Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, in close standing and sitting in close proximity without masks.
The US envoy has not experienced any symptoms, but decided to be tested as a precaution, embassy sources confirmed to Efe.
Bolsonaro’s top aides have also been tested, along with members of his family, which was already a focus of concern as the first lady’s elderly grandmother has been hospitalized with the coronavirus.
Spokespeople for the president’s office told Efe that Bolsonaro has already taken two doses of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug whose effectiveness as a treatment for Covid-19 remains in dispute.
In comments Tuesday to a group of supporters at the gates of the presidential palace, Bolsonaro said that he took the test after experiencing what he thought were flu symptoms.
“I’ve just come from the hospital. They took an X-ray of my lung and it’s clean,” he told the group.
Sources consulted by Efe said that the president’s symptoms included muscle aches and a fever of 38 C (100 F).
Acknowledging Tuesday that his administration must “concern itself with the virus,” Bolsonaro continued to insist on the need to re-open the Brazilian economy as quickly as possible because “unemployment also kills.”
This week was not the first time the president underwent the coronavirus test.
He tested negative on several occasions in March and April after numerous members of the delegation that accompanied him to Florida for a meeting with US President Donald Trump were found to be infected. EFE