Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro tests positive for Covid-19

Right-wing leader has sought to minimise threat posed by coronavirus, comparing it to ‘mild flu’

Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro confirmed on Tuesday he has caught Covid-19.

Since the beginning of the global health emergency Mr Bolsonaro has sought to minimise the threat posed by the new coronavirus, comparing the disease to a “mild flu” and criticising efforts to contain its spread. “The fact I have been contaminated shows I am a human being like any other,” he said when announcing his positive result on live television.

Mr Bolsonaro began to feel unwell on Sunday and took a test for the virus on Monday night after he started to cough and run a temperature. He also underwent a lung exam at a military hospital in Brasília.

He said he would continue working via video-conferencing. In a statement the president’s office said he was in “a good state of health” and remained in his official residence. This was his fourth publicly acknowledged test.


Though he is in the over-65 at-risk group Mr Bolsonaro has disdained social distancing protocols all through the outbreak, waging a campaign against efforts by Brazil’s governors and mayors to contain the spread of the virus.

He has often declined to wear a face mask when out in public to meet with groups of supporters. In a much criticised move, Mr Bolsonaro this month altered a law passed by congress so as to remove the obligation to use face masks in churches, shops, schools and prisons.

He has also personally failed to practise self-isolation after several outbreaks of the virus among his own staff. Over the course of Monday Mr Bolsonaro held at least six meetings with multiple people, including his economics minister and chief of staff.


On Saturday he attended a lunch at the US embassy to commemorate US independence day and appeared on social media hugging his foreign minister Ernesto Araújo at the event.

The president also announced he had started taking chloroquine, the anti-malarial medicine that the World Health Organisation (WHO) says has little or no use in treating the disease. He put the chance of his successful treatment from the drug at 100 per cent.

Despite the WHO recommending an end to chloroquine trials, Mr Bolsonaro remains a fervent advocate of its use in combating the new coronavirus, ordering Brazil’s military to produce millions of doses of the drug. The country’s federal accountability office is now seeking to investigate evidence of possible corruption in the military-run programme.

As of Monday night Brazil has registered 65,556 deaths and over 1.6 million infections from coronavirus, according to a consortium of the country's leading media groups. The number of deaths in major states such as São Paulo has accelerated since quarantine restrictions were relaxed despite the reproduction rate not having been brought under control.

The country has been without a full time health minister since the middle of May when Mr Bolsonaro forced out his second one in less than a month over his refusal to endorse chloroquine.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America