Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday he tested positive for the novel coronavirus after months minimizing the severity of the pandemic and defying medical experts, even as the virus has killed more than 66,000 people in his country.
The right-wing populist gave the news to reporters at his official residence standing just inches away from him, adding to criticism of his cavalier approach to the outbreak in Brazil, the world’s worst outside the United States.
Even as he announced his infection, the 65-year-old former army captain dismissed the dangers of the virus and credited unproven treatments for his mild symptoms, echoing his political role model U.S. President Donald Trump.
The president said he was taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug with unproven effectiveness against COVID-19 that has been touted by Trump and some of his supporters and pro-government factions in Brazil as a potential cure.
Finishing the interview with three TV channels, Bolsonaro stepped back and removed his mask to reveal a smile, adding: “You can see from my face that I’m well and I’m calm.”
The leader released a separate video later on Tuesday, showing him sitting at a desk and gulping down what he described as his third dose of hydroxychloroquine.
Bolsonaro, like Trump, has blasted experts at the World Health Organization and voiced skepticism about the virulence of the virus, although the U.S. president has moderated his tone.
The Brazilian leader repeated his claim on Tuesday that the risks of COVID-19 were exaggerated and most Brazilians did not need to worry: “Be assured that for you the chance of something more serious is close to zero.”
He has regularly appeared in public without a mask and on Friday vetoed parts of a bill that made the use of masks mandatory in public places.
His veto removed the requirement to wear a mask in enclosed spaces such as churches, factories, commercial or educational locations. He also blocked the stipulation that masks be provided on such premises and people removed if they are not using them.