BRASILIA • Now infected with the virus he has shrugged off as a “little flu”, President Jair Bolsonaro is insisting that his approach to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed tens of thousands of fellow Brazilians, was correct all along.
After months of clashing with doctors, governors and mayors who clamoured for strict quarantine measures, Mr Bolsonaro announced on Tuesday on live television that he had tested positive for Covid-19.
He told reporters through a mask that he felt “perfectly well”, after taking two doses of hydroxychloroquine, an unproven anti-malarial drug he has touted as a successful remedy.
“We know there are other remedies that can help fight the coronavirus,” he said hours later in a video he posted on Facebook, after swallowing a third dose of the drug.
“None are scientifically proven, but there’s one that’s working.”
Medical experts say otherwise, but Mr Bolsonaro’s supporters are coalescing around the stricken President as proof that Brazilians should get back to work and not hide from the illness tearing through Latin America’s largest economy.
“The President took the right approach,” lawmaker Jose Medeiros, the government’s deputy leader in the Lower House, said in an interview. “He will be proven right that there was no way we would stay hiding in our homes.”
Critics blame Mr Bolsonaro for creating a public health disaster as the country’s politics have grown increasingly polarised and toxic.
Brazil’s largest daily, Folha de S. Paulo, published an op-ed late Tuesday titled “Why I Am Cheering For Bolsonaro To Die”.
Brazil trails only the United States with more than 65,000 confirmed deaths and over 1.62 million total cases.
Its response has been erratic partly because of Mr Bolsonaro’s insistence that shutting down the economy would be more dangerous than the virus. Governors have rejected his advice and imposed various lockdowns in recent months, but his refusal to back those steps has made enforcement harder.
His argument has been that the virus cannot be escaped or beaten and the country has to learn to accept it. As he said on Tuesday, “this virus is like the rain. It’s going to get you”.
Mr Bolsonaro has had recent health troubles that could complicate his condition. In September 2018, while campaigning for president, he was stabbed in the abdomen, leading to multiple operations. For months, he relied on a feeding tube and colostomy bag.
Mr Thomaz Favaro, a Sao Paulo-based analyst for the consultancy Control Risks, said Mr Bolsonaro’s illness could help shift the conversation to the state of his health rather than what he is doing to control the pandemic.
“It’s a lot easier for him to answer questions about how he is feeling and whether he was able to exercise, rather than what his government is doing to address the latest 1,000 deaths,” he said.
Mr Bolsonaro, 65, is already making a point of keeping up a sense of normality.
So far, the only adjustments to his agenda have been cancelling two trips to Brazil’s interior and turning face-to-face meetings into virtual ones, according to two officials speaking on condition of anonymity. They said his symptoms remained mild.