POLITICS
08/07/2020 7:41 AM AEST

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Tests Positive For Coronavirus

The far-right leader has spent months downplaying the severity of Covid-19 even as cases surge in his country.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, one of a handful of world leaders who has spent months downplaying the coronavirus pandemic and flouting social distancing and health guidelines, has tested positive for the disease.

The 65-year-old far-right leader told reporters he had begun feeling ill on Sunday but was in good health despite running a fever. He added that an examination had shown his lungs were “clean”.

Bolsonaro has previously dismissed coronavirus as a “little flu”, even as he oversaw a botched government response to the disease which has killed more than 65,000 Brazilians.

It is the second highest death toll in the world behind the US and has forced the digging of mass graves in parts of the country.

Last month he said: “We are sorry for all the dead, but that’s everyone’s destiny.”

The country has more than 1.6 million confirmed cases, overwhelming the country’s healthcare system and pushing some hospitals to the point of collapse.

Despite this he has pushed ahead with the easing of the country’s lockdown and, like Donald Trump, continued to step out in public without any major precautions such as wearing a face covering.

He has even ventured into crowds to shake hands with the public.

Adriano Machado / Reuters
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro adjusts his mask as he leaves Alvorada Palace, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Brasilia, Brazil May 13.

Bolsonaro was tested at least three times for the virus in March after meeting with US President Donald Trump, and all those tests came back negative. 

Over the weekend, Bolsonaro attended several events and was in close contact with US Ambassador Todd Chapman during July 4 celebrations, Reuters reports.

Pictures showed neither wearing a mask.

The US embassy in Brasilia said via Twitter on Monday that the ambassador had lunch on July 4 with Bolsonaro, five ministers and the president’s son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro.

The ambassador had no symptoms, but would undergo testing and is “taking precautions”. the embassy said.

A Brazilian judge ordered the far-right president to wear a mask in public last month after he attended a spate of political rallies without one, even as cases surged throughout the country. At the time, the judge said no one was “above the law” and that Bolsonaro had a “clear intent to break the rules.”

In June, Brazil removed detailed numbers on coronavirus cases from the Health Ministry’s website, claiming without evidence that the figures had been inflated by local officials.

The country’s Supreme Court ordered the data to be restored days later amid claims that Bolsonaro’s government had attempted to mask how severe the outbreak had grown in the country.

The government’s efforts to interfere with coronavirus data came even as positive tests spread through the top echelons of the Brazilian government. In March, Bolsonaro’s top press secretary tested positive for Covid-19.

Additional reporting from Nick Visser.

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