Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus after months of downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic. The president told reporters on Tuesday that he had taken the test after experiencing symptoms including fatigue, muscle pain, and a fever.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, and several other world leaders have contracted the disease and then recovered, but Bolsonaro’s diagnosis is particularly noteworthy given his emergence as one of the world’s leading COVID-19 gadflies.
Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of the virus, attended crowded public rallies with his supporters, and fought publicly with his own science advisers as well as state governments that have imposed lockdowns, even as Brazil has developed the world’s second-worst COVID-19 outbreak after the United States with more than 1.6 million cases and 65,487 deaths.
Bolsonaro’s own health status has also been a continual source of speculation. In March, 23 members of Bolsonaro’s team tested positive for the virus after a trip to the U.S., which included a meeting with President Donald Trump. Bolsonaro claimed to have tested negative after the trip, but a court ordered him to turn over the results of his test amid allegations that he was lying. (Apparently, he was telling the truth that time.) Bolsonaro’s press secretary, energy minister, and national security adviser have all previously been diagnosed with the disease. On Saturday, the president attended what appeared to be a chummy and maskless Fourth of July party hosted by the U.S. ambassador.
The 65-year-old president has said in the past that “as an athlete” he is not worried about getting the disease, though he was hospitalized early last year with symptoms of pneumonia related to a stab wound he received during his presidential campaign. Along with Trump, Bolsonaro has also been a vocal proponent of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which studies have shown is not the coronavirus silver bullet its proponents have claimed. (Bolsonaro’s health minister resigned after one month on the job in May partly over a disagreement over whether to promote hydroxychloroquine.)
Speaking a few feet away from journalists on Tuesday, and at one point removing his mask so reporters could see his face, Bolsonaro said he was feeling “fine,” which he credited to having taken the drug. He also said he would work from home for the next few days while recovering.
It’s worth noting that Johnson, who early on had also been dismissive of the idea of lockdowns and other draconian measures to fight the disease, took it much more seriously after experiencing it himself. Bolsonaro may be too dug in to the position he has staked out for a change of heart.