Brazil’s Bolsonaro Teases National Tour After Beating Coronavirus

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (C) takes a ride and has his motorcycle's engine overhaul after he announced he tested negative for COVID-19 more than two weeks after being diagnosed, in Brasilia, on July 25, 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Sergio LIMA / AFP) (Photo by SERGIO LIMA/AFP …
SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tested negative for Chinese coronavirus this weekend, he announced on Twitter, after about two weeks of fighting the disease.

At 65 years old and still fighting complications from an assassination attempt by a self-proclaimed socialist two years ago, Bolsonaro was at moderate risk for severe complications from viral contagion. Brazil’s presidential office, Planalto, stated that he experienced a fever and felt ill when he initially tested positive for the virus, but he never needed hospital care or came close to any life-threatening condition.

One of the world’s most vocal opponents of lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus, Bolsonaro argued that only the sick and vulnerable should be isolated and that businesses should be allowed to continue their activities or public health protocol will lead to economic devastation. As president, he does not have control over state lockdowns, but has taken the streets of some cities to visit businesses and oppose their governors.

Bolsonaro also courted controversy by dismissing the severity of the virus prior to having it, referring to it as a gripezinha (“a little cold”).

During his time in isolation, Bolsonaro posted often to social media about his use of hydroxychloroquine, a drug typically used for malaria that some believe could have positive effects on individuals fighting the Chinese coronavirus. Bolsonaro has been one of the world’s loudest supporters of widespread use of hydroxychloroquine against coronavirus. Given that the pandemic began in late 2019, scientists have not yet had enough time to conclusively determine the effectiveness of the drug on most patients.

The president posted a photo of himself holding a box of what appeared to be the medication while performing a “thumbs-up” gesture on Twitter on Saturday, reading “RT-PCR for Sars-Cov 2: negative. GOOD DAY TO ALL.” RT-PCR is the technical name for the most commonly used test to identify the Chinese coronavirus in a person’s body.

The photo followed a similar pattern of Bolsonaro posting himself eating breakfast or enjoying coffee on a daily basis, to keep the public informed as to how he was faring while fighting the virus.

Bolsonaro’s announcement followed some controversy on Friday after a Reuters journalist recorded him in public in Brasilia, riding his motorcycle and stopping to greet workers while not wearing a mask – potentially exposing them to the coronavirus. The excursion occurred after Bolsonaro confessed in a Facebook live video on Thursday that he was feeling “overwhelmed” by being in quarantine. Reuters caught Bolsonaro not just speaking to others in public, but apparently showing his hydroxychloroquine supply to a rhea, a species of flightless South American bird.

Following his positive test, Bolsonaro took his motorcycle for another ride through Brasilia, stopping for photos and greetings with supporters. He later spoke to reporters while at a repair shop for his motorcycle.

“I didn’t feel anything from the beginning, if I hadn’t been tested I wouldn’t have even known I had contracted the virus,” Bolsonaro said on Saturday. “It is something that happens, you have to take care of the elderly and move on with your life.”

Bolsonaro also stated that he was planning a national tour of weekly visits to at least five states, Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported, to support local conservatives and meeting with supporters.

Bolsonaro tested positive for the virus on July 7 and held a press conference outdoors, wearing a mask, in which he said that lung screenings did not show any fluid, so he believed he was doing well. He then kept up with presidential duties through video conferencing and used social media to update citizens on his status.

“To those who cheer against hydroxychloroquine, but do not present alternatives, I regret to inform you that I am very well with its use and, with the grace of God, I will live for a long time to come,” he posted on Twitter the day after his first positive test. He later posted a video of himself taking the drug.

Brazil has documented one of the largest numbers of Chinese coronavirus cases and deaths in the world, a result of both its large population and the fact that some of the most severely affected countries, like China and Iran, are rogue states believed to be falsifying their statistics. At press time, Brazil has confirmed nearly 2.5 million coronavirus cases and a little over 87,000 deaths.

In March, when the first coronavirus cases began to surface in Latin America, Bolsonaro urged the public to attempt to maintain normalcy in the face of the pandemic.

“The virus is here, we’re going to have to confront it. Confront it like a man, not a boy!” Bolsonaro told supporters at a rally that month. “We’re all going to die one day.”

“What I have said from the beginning is that ‘we are going to be careful, the over-65s stay at home,'” Bolsonaro said on another occasion in March. “We just can’t stand still, there is fear because if you don’t die of the disease, you starve.”

Bolsonaro’s approval ratings in the northeast of the country – the country’s poorest and a traditional socialist stronghold – have skyrocketed in the past three months, perhaps an acknowledgment of his support for businesses. The Brazilian magazine Veja published poll results this weekend finding that Bolsonaro’s approval rating gained about ten percentage points in three months, jumping from 30.3 percent in April to 39.4 percent in July. Bolsonaro’s disapproval in the northeast similar fell 9.3 percent, a change that Veja did not document anywhere else in the country. The magazine noted that Bolsonaro’s approval ratings in that region are still his lowest nationwide.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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