Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for coronavirus, days after he celebrated the July 4 weekend with the US ambassador and a host of his top ministers in Brasília.
The 65-year-old said he started feeling weak on Sunday, and “it worsened on Monday, with malaise, tiredness, muscle pain, and fever of 38 degrees”. He said doctors treated him with the controversial antimalarial drug chloroquine.
“If I hadn’t done the tests and hadn’t been taking chloroquine, I could be contaminating people. Now I have to avoid infecting others,” he said. He added there was “no alternative” to chloroquine.
The positive diagnosis makes the former army captain among the few world leaders to contract the illness, including Boris Johnson in the UK.
Mr Bolsonaro has long denied the seriousness of the pandemic and has attended numerous rallies and events often without any precautions, such as wearing a mask. He has described the disease as a mere “sniffle” and once said: “The virus is there. We need to face it like a man.”
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Bolsonaro said: “The number of deaths has increased not because of the virus but because of the fear of the virus. The virus is like the rain, it will hit you.” He concluded by taking off his mask and giving a thumbs-up.
Like his ally US President Donald Trump, Mr Bolsonaro has also defended the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to fight the disease. Upon a request from Brasília, the US dispatched 2m doses of the drugs to Brazil, although some state governors said they refused to distribute them.
On Saturday, the Brazilian leader was photographed celebrating the US national holiday alongside his foreign minister, his chief of staff and the US ambassador to Brazil, raising the prospect that a number of members of his cabinet could also have the disease.
In March, several close aides to the Brazilian leader were diagnosed with Covid-19 soon after a summit between Mr Bolsonaro and Mr Trump at the US president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The diagnoses sparked a frenzy of speculation that Mr Bolsonaro had been exposed to the disease. A court eventually ordered him to publish test results, which showed he was not ill.
Mr Bolsonaro’s health has been an ongoing source of concern after he was stabbed while campaigning for the presidency in 2018. That attack resulted in him undergoing multiple surgeries.
Brazil is in the middle of one of the world’s largest coronavirus crises, with more than 65,000 deaths from the disease.
Despite the escalating situation, however, city and state officials across have begun to reopen their economies with limitations on working hours and crowd density. In São Paulo — Brazil’s largest city, which was hit hard at the beginning of the outbreak — bars and restaurants on Monday opened for the first time in four months.
Throughout the crisis, Mr Bolsonaro opposed shutdowns and sparred constantly with state governors over how to handle the pandemic.
“Life goes on. Brazil has to produce, the economy has to move,” he said.
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice