The Slatest

From “Moldy Lungs” to Garlic Tea, World Leaders Have Had a Wide Range of Experiences With the Coronavirus

Bolsonaro, not wearing a mask, greets a crowd of his supporters
A maskless Jair Bolsonaro at a rally in Brasilia, Brazil, on Sept. 7. Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is far from the first world leader to contract the coronavirus this year. The presidents and prime ministers who preceded him had a wide range of experiences with the disease, from life-threatening to completely asymptomatic. No head of state or government has died of the disease so far; having access to regular testing and the best medical care your country has to offer likely increases your chance of survival. Here’s a brief look at what happened to the other leaders who’ve come down with the disease.

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Boris Johnson, prime minister of the United Kingdom

Johnson was diagnosed with the virus on March 27 after experiencing mild symptoms including a fever and persistent cough. Ten days later, he was taken to the hospital after his condition worsened. Johnson spent three days in intensive care, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was deputized to make key decisions in his place while he was incapacitated.  He later said his case “could have gone either way” and credited the National Health Service with saving his life.

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Nuno Gomes Nabiam, prime minister of Guinea-Bissau

Nabiam tested positive alongside three other ministers on April 29, and all were quarantined at a hotel. Their treatment was a bit unorthodox. Nabiam announced he was “virus-free” on May 7 and said he had suffered a “bad time,” with a high fever, and urged Guineans to take the disease seriously. He also claimed to have been treated by drinking a garlic, ginger, and lemon tea five times a day. This homemade “cure” has been widely promoted by the president of Madagascar, who claims it has miraculous results and has shipped it throughout Africa.

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Mikhail Mishustin, prime minister of Russia

Mishustin announced on May 1, during a videoconference with President Vladimir Putin, that he had tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing a high fever. He was later hospitalized, but recovered and resumed his duties on May 19. Putin had temporarily transferred Mishustin’s powers to his deputy during his treatment.*

Nikol Pashinian, prime minister of Armenia

After he and his family tested positive, Pashinian claimed on June 2 that he had likely been infected by a waiter who had handed him a glass of water without wearing gloves. This is a little hard to believe given that he had been photographed at a crowded banquet with senior officials several days earlier where none of the attendees had been wearing masks. Pashinian said he had not experienced any symptoms and announced he had recovered a week later after self-isolating and working from home.

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Luis Abinader, president of the Dominican Republic

Trump is also not the first presidential candidate to come down with the virus. Abinader, at that point leader of the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party, and his wife announced that they had been infected on June 11, just 3½ weeks before the presidential election. Abinader recovered at home and won the vote handily on July 5.

Juan Orlando Hernández, president of Honduras

Hernández tested positive on June 16 and was taken to the hospital the next day with symptoms of pneumonia. His wife and two aides were also infected. He was discharged from the hospital and moved to home isolation 16 days later, after his symptoms had improved. At an emotional press conference, he told the country, “Many think this is a game and it is not until they see a relative who gets sick or when they get sick themselves that they understand the seriousness of this issue. I tell you, the truth is I don’t wish this on anyone.”

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Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil

Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the severity of the disease and opposed measures to stop its spread, tested positive for the disease on July 7. Bolsonaro appears to have had a fairly mild case, with symptoms including “aches, fever and malaise,” and continued working from isolation. He was treated with hydroxychloroquine, the controversial anti-malarial drug that he and a number of other leaders, including Trump, have promoted, but which most researchers say has no effect on COVID-19. After recovering, he was later treated with antibiotics for an infection he called “moldy lungs” that he blamed on his quarantine. His bout with the coronavirus has not changed his skeptical stance on the pandemic.

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Jeanine Áñez, interim president of Bolivia

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Áñez, who took power after President Evo Morales was forced from office last November, announced on July 10 that she was self-quarantining after testing positive for the virus. She does not appear to have had a serious case and returned to work two weeks later. Áñez has no clearly identified deputy, and it was unclear who would have taken over for her if she had been seriously ill. In the midst of a political crisis, Bolivia has been hit hard by the virus with one of the world’s highest death rates per capita.

Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus

The longtime Belarusian dictator’s dismissive attitude toward the virus—he has called it a psychosis, suggested it could be prevented by playing hockey or drinking vodka, and continued to hold in-person rallies—is one of the reasons for the current mass protests against his regime. The circumstances of his own bout with COVID are a little murky. He claimed on July 28, in a meeting with the military, that he had had an “asymptomatic” case. In a later interview, he described the disease as “extremely unpleasant” but said he had “powered through” his infection, only finding out afterward, when his family insisted he get a test, that he had been infected. “I thought that I was just tired. It felt very weird. You walk with difficulty but you think that it is due to huge workload,” he said. This suggests he had continued holding meetings while infected.

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Alejandro Giammattei, president of Guatemala

Giammattei announced that he had tested positive on Sept. 18. The 64-year-old president, a former surgeon, described himself as a “high-risk patient” due to underlying medical conditions: He walks on crutches due to multiple sclerosis suffered as a child, is a former smoker, and has a heart condition. The following week he said in an interview that he had suffered a “terrible” night and woke up with body pains. Giammattei continues to work and said earlier this week that he is still suffering symptoms including body pain and upset stomach, but that his condition has stabilized.

Correction, Oct. 2, 2020: This post originally misspelled Mikhail Mishustin’s last name.

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