With a wry smile to cameras, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro slid down his face mask before making a statement Tuesday.
The president is now a statistic: one of the 1.6 million Brazilians who have contracted the virus, which has swept through the world leaving death and destruction in its wake. So far, Brazil has recorded 66,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
And on the same day Bolsonaro confirmed his diagnosis, Brazil reported another 45,000 cases — a sign its raging epidemic is not slowing down.
The 65-year-old president had previously said that his history as an athlete would protect him from the virus and that it would be nothing more than a “little flu.”
He has removed two health ministers since April, berated state governors and local mayors for strict lockdown measures and taken selfies with the public.
Reacting to the news, executive director of the World Health Organization, Michael Ryan, said Tuesday that when it comes to the virus “no one is special.”
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“The virus does not know really who we are, whether we are a prince or pauper, we are equally vulnerable,” he told a press conference, live-streamed from Geneva.
But Bolsonaro says he is confident he will swiftly recover thanks to treatment with hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug also favored by Donald Trump — but has not been proven effective against COVID-19.
Later on Tuesday, Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist often compared to President Trump, posted a video on Facebook of him laughing at his desk and taking his third dose of hydroxychloroquine, followed by a thumbs-up.
“Today I’m a lot better, so certainly it’s working,” Bolsonaro said, downing the dose with a glass of water.
“We know today there are other remedies that can help fight the coronavirus. We know none of them have their efficacy scientifically proven, but I’m one more person for whom this is working. So, I trust hydroxychloroquine,” he added.
The lethal coronavirus is raging in Brazil, with cases and deaths mounting — only the U.S. has experienced a worse outbreak so far.
Brazil’s indigenous populations have been particularly hard-hit, with deaths related to the disease increasing by more than five-fold through May.
Bolsonaro supporter Silas Ribeiro said on the streets of Rio that the president was correct in stating the dangers of the virus had been exaggerated.
“Our president is a popular man. He is showing that he isn’t afraid to die,” Ribeiro, 59, told the Associated Press. “He is going to have health and get through this sickness.”
But not all Brazilians are convinced of the former army captain’s valiant display of strength.
Student Wesley Morielo said he hoped Bolsonaro’s sickness prompts him to reassess his stance on coronavirus.
“I think everything he said before, of not giving importance to COVID-19, came back against him,” Morielo also told the AP.
Bolsonaro said he had canceled a trip this week to Brazil’s northeast region but will continue working via video-conference and receive rare visitors when he needs to sign a document.
Over the weekend, the Brazilian leader celebrated the Fourth of July with the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Todd C. Chapman, then shared photos on social media showing him in close quarters with the diplomat, several ministers and aides. None wore masks.
The U.S. Embassy said on Twitter on Tuesday that Ambassador Chapman was not showing any symptoms of coronavirus but would be tested as a precaution.