RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said Tuesday he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity.
Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and speaking to reporters in capital Brasilia, and said he is already taking hydroxychloroquine — an anti-malarial unproven to effectively treat COVID-19.
“I’m well, normal. I even want to take a walk around here, but I can’t due to medical recommendations,” Bolsonaro said. “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 the people.”
The 65-year-old populist has often appeared in public to shake hands with supporters and mingle with crowds, at times without a mask. He has said that his history as an athlete would protect him from the virus, and that it would be nothing more than a “little flu” were he to contract it.
He also repeatedly said that there is no way to prevent 70% of the population falling ill with COVID-19, and that local authorities’ measures to shut down economic activity would ultimately cause more hardship than allowing the virus to run its course.
Bolsonaro on Tuesday repeated those sentiments, comparing the virus to a rain that will fall on most people, and that some, like the elderly, must take greater care.
“You can’t just talk about the consequences of the virus that you have to worry about. Life goes on. Brazil needs to produce. You need to get the economy in gear,″ he said.
Cities and states last month began lifting restrictions that had been imposed to control the spread of the virus, as their statistical curves of deaths began to decline along with the occupation rate of its intensive-care units. Brazil, the world’s sixth most populous nation, with more than 210 million people, is one of the global hot spots of the pandemic.
Bolsonaro said he has canceled a trip to the northeast region that was planned for this week. He will continue working via videoconference and receive rare visitors when he needs to sign a document, he said.
The president underwent an X-ray of his lungs on Monday after experiencing fever, muscle aches and malaise, he told reporters. As of Tuesday, his fever had subsided, he said, and attributed the improvement to hydroxychloroquine, which he has long promoted despite growing medical consensus it does not work against COVID-19. He stepped back from the journalists and removed his mask at one point to show that he looks well.
Over the weekend, the Brazilian leader celebrated the U.S. Independence Day with the nation’s ambassador to Brazil, then shared pictures on social media showing him in close quarters with the ambassador, several ministers and aides. None wore masks.
The U.S. Embassy said on Twitter on Monday that Ambassador Todd Chapman is not showing any COVID-19 symptoms but would be tested.
Bolsonaro tested negative three times in March after meeting with the U.S. President Donald Trump in Florida. Multiple members of his delegation to the U.S. were later reported to be infected with the virus.
More than 65,000 Brazilians have so far died from COVID-19 and more than 1,500,000 have been infected. Both numbers are the world’s second-highest totals, and are considered to be undercounts to the lack of widespread testing.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly visited the hospital since taking office, requiring several operations to repair his intestines after he was stabbed on the campaign trail in 2018.