Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19 this week, after months of undermining the severity of the global pandemic. Speaking to a small group of reporters, a mask-wearing Bolsonaro confirmed he contracted the coronavirus. He stated, “There’s no reason for fear… Life goes on. I thank God for my life and the role I’ve been given to decide the future of this great nation.” The president added, “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 people.”
The 65-year-old president is said to already be taking the unproven anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, to treat the virus. Since Brazil’s first COVID-19 victim emerged in March, the far-right populist has repeatedly downplayed the pandemic and has been ignoring coronavirus safeguards such as social distancing. Bolsonaro has often appeared in public wearing masks incorrectly, or not wearing one at all. He has also repeatedly mingled in crowds and shaken hands with supporters during social events and political rallies with barely any restrictions. During one of his addresses to the nation, Bolsonaro said his “background as an athlete” would protect him from COVID-19. Adding, if he ever contracted the virus, he probably would not feel a thing, at least nothing more than a “little flu”.
According to the Guardian, after announcing he tested positive, Bolsonaro stepped a few feet back from the reporters he was addressing, removed his mask, and whilst smiling said, “Just look at my face. I’m well … Thanks to all those who have been praying for me … and to those who criticize me, no problem, carry on criticizing as much as you like.”
The attempts made by Brazilian governors and mayors to curb the virus and slow the spread through lockdowns and social distancing, have been met with major opposition from the president. Bolsonaro has continued to undermine what he calls ‘overblown’ and ‘panic-inducing’ lockdowns that do little but harm the economy, despite global recommendations to do so. He has previously complained “some authorities even forbade people from going to the beach … the majority of Brazilians (who) contract this virus don’t notice a thing.”
The Brazilian president has said there is no way to prevent most of the country’s population falling ill with COVID-19, and hence no need for shutdowns or local quarantine measures. For almost two months now, Brazil’s coronavirus response has been largely handled by an interim health minister with no health experience before April. His predecessor, Nelson Teich, a doctor and health care consultant, quit after less than a month on the job. Teich protested against Bolsonaro’s support for hydroxychloroquine and disagreed with the president’s decree allowing for gyms, hairdressers and most businesses to stay open.
Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly received warnings from the United Nations and the World Health Organization over completely mismanaging his coronavirus response. This has led to Brazil becoming the world’s second worst-hit country after the United States, with more than 65,000 deaths and 1.6 million confirmed cases. Getting infected with COVID-19 after displaying symptoms of a high fever and persistent cough is a blow to Bolsonaro’s credibility. This should lead him and his team to take more precautions and to finally understand the severity of this pandemic, which still has no vaccine in sight and the threat of more severe waves.
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