Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Picture: REUTERS/ADRIANO MACHADO
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Picture: REUTERS/ADRIANO MACHADO

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for Covid-19 in an escalation of the health crisis that has engulfed Latin America’s largest economy.

“I’m perfectly well,” Bolsonaro told CNN Brasil in a live interview, after announcing the result of his test. He added he is taking hydroxichloroquine, an antimalaria medicine he has been touting as being effective against the virus, though its use has not been authorised by most health experts globally and could have dangerous side effects.

The 65-year-old president, who during his campaign to reopen the economy called the virus “just a little flu”, has repeatedly disobeyed medical recommendations to avoid contamination, mingling in crowds without a face mask and giving people handshakes.

Late on Monday, however, a video posted on YouTube showed a masked Bolsonaro trying not to get too close to supporters who awaited him in front of the presidential palace. He told them he was following social distancing orders from a doctor after showing symptoms of the virus, and added that an exam had shown his lungs were “clean”.

Brazil has become a global hotspot for the virus, trailing only the US with more than 65,000 confirmed deaths and more than 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 headed by an interim chief after Bolsonaro fired his first minister and a second resigned.

Bolsonaro could be seen coughing during a Thursday broadcast on his social networks, when he sat next to six other people, none of whom wore a mask. Officials who were present included regional development minister Rogerio Marinho and the CEO of state-owned bank Caixa Economica Federal, Pedro Guimaraes. Since then, he has mingled with members of his administration and the public, and had lunch with the US ambassador to Brazil on Saturday.

It is not the first time Bolsonaro has been tested for Covid-19. In March, after multiple members of his delegation on a US visit contracted the virus, he said he tested negative.

On June 25, he said during a Facebook live broadcast that he thought he had already contracted the virus.

Bolsonaro joins other world leaders who have contracted the virus, including Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, both of whom were hospitalised during the treatment.

Bloomberg

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