RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has sought repeatedly to minimize the coronavirus as he urges the country back to work, said Tuesday he has tested positive for covid-19.
Bolsonaro, who has been an outlier among world leaders in his skepticism of both the coronavirus and preventive measures intended to curb it, was tested Monday evening after developing symptoms that included a fever.
“There’s no problem,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s natural. There’s no dread. It’s life.”
The result adds one more case to what has become the world’s second-worst coronavirus outbreak, after the United States. Brazil has reported more than 1.6 million cases and 65,000 deaths — both believed to be undercounts — an escalating disaster that scientists and health officials say has been exacerbated by Bolsonaro’s frequent dismissal of it.
Bolsonaro, 65, has described covid-19 as a “little cold,” repeatedly waded into crowds of supporters, threatened to host a large barbecue to defy health measures, and as recently as last week attended a Fourth of July party at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia without wearing a mask. A Brazilian court last month ordered Bolsonaro to wear a mask while in public.
“In my particular case,” the former Army officer said in a national address in March, “with my history as an athlete, if I were infected by the virus, I wouldn’t need to worry. I wouldn’t feel anything or, if very affected, it would be like a little flu or little cold.”
Bolsonaro is at least the fourth world leader to test positive for covid-19. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was treated in intensive care in April; he has since recovered. Guinea-Bissau’s Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam tested positive in April. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was hospitalized last month. He announced last week he was leaving the hospital and resuming work.
Bolsonaro shared the news that he had contracted a highly infectious and potentially fatal virus at a news conference with reporters huddled near him. He wore a mask.
Despite the positive test results, he repeated the same talking points he’s used since the beginning of the pandemic. He said some of the preventive measures had been exaggerated, urged Brazilians to prioritize the economy, and said the young had almost no need to worry if they catch the disease. Scientists strongly disagree.
“Life will continue, and Brazil needs to produce,” he said. “If the economy isn’t functioning, it will create other problems that will lead to more death.”
He said he planned to continue working in isolation, but had canceled travel.
At the end of the conference, he stepped several feet away and removed his mask to address the reporters.
“I’m good, relaxed,” he said. “We are a democracy, and we are going to continue to be careful. People who are younger, if you get the virus, be calm. The chance of it being more grave is practically zero.”
But data scientists say the situation in Brazil is much more complicated. Among the young, Brazil has a significantly higher mortality rate than its developed peers. In Rio de Janeiro state, more than two-thirds of hospitalizations are of people younger than 49.