Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for COVID-19.
The populist leader announced his test results personally, on live TV, speaking mask-less and in close confines with a group of reporters, visually signifying that his attitude toward coronavirus had not changed in light of his personal circumstances.
Mr Bolsonaro has spent months downplaying the pandemic’s hold on Brazil and danger to the world.
Now he’s downplaying his own diagnosis.
“There’s no reason for fear. That’s life. Life goes on,” he said as he announced his positive test result.
Mr Bolsonaro, who famously described the virus as “a little flu”, has said he wouldn’t suffer major symptoms of COVID-19 because of his background as an athlete.
This is a man who survived being stabbed in the stomach with a 12 centimetre knife in 2018. But the implication that one’s fitness or virility protects them from virus-related harm is false.
Though the virus is known for preying on those with pre-existing conditions, anyone can be affected.
Bolsonaro appeared to do little to protect himself
More than 65,000 Brazilians have died from the virus, according to the latest figures from the country’s health ministry.
The country has registered more than 1.6 million cases. But with testing shortages throughout the country, experts predict the numbers could be 15 times higher.
Brazil, which has a population of roughly 210 million, is second only to the United States when it comes to these numbers.
Brazil’s Federal Government closed the country’s borders shortly after it discovered the first case in mid-March.
It established national emergency funds for laid-off workers and boosted public health systems by relocating millions of doctors and nurses.
But outside of that, Mr Bolsonaro has largely put concern for the economy over concern for public health.
He responded to local and state shelter-in-place orders with criticism and scorn. He fired his health minister, who championed social distancing and self-isolation.
He posted videos of himself shopping during lockdown, barefaced and gregarious, which Twitter found so dangerous the company removed them.
Later, Mr Bolsonaro joined an anti-lockdown protest, where he hugged supporters and held babies.
“Banning this and that isn’t going to contain the spread,” he told reporters as he expanded the list of essential businesses.
“When you ban football and other things, you fall into hysteria.”
Bolsonaro’s response sparked impeachment calls
“Killer! You’re a killer!” was how one woman’s hysterical anger manifested as Mr Bolsonaro stopped in a shopping square one day to eat a hot dog during lockdown.
A movement to impeach the President is gaining traction, as a nightly ritual of banging pots and pans in protest of the President grows louder.
In addition to criticising governors, Mr Bolsonaro spoke out against scientists in touting the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 cure.
“God is Brazilian! The cure is right here,” he said on March 29, as he celebrated the unproven drug with a throng of supporters.
Though studies are ongoing, the drug has not been proven as an effective treatment. Some studies suggest it does more harm than good.
That didn’t stop Mr Bolsonaro from ordering Brazil’s military to start mass producing the drug and spending millions ordering ingredients from India.
He has tested negative three times before.
US President Donald Trump, an outspoken ally of Mr Bolsonaro, has also been persistent in his praise for hydroxychloroquine and admitted to taking it as a preventative measure.
The White House sent 2 million doses of the drug to Brazil in May with the stated purpose of treating infected Brazilians.
Bolsonaro is known as the ‘Trump of the tropics’
Belief in a controversial cure is just the beginning of the similarities between the two presidents.
Under fire, both Mr Bolsonaro and Mr Trump have flouted health experts, attended large gatherings, attacked the press, spread false information and portrayed the virus as a scheme dreamed up by their enemies to oust them from office.
The two leaders met at Mr Trump’s private resort in mid-March, as the US was entering national lockdowns and Brazil was seeing its very first cases.
More than 20 of Mr Bolsonaro’s aides tested positive days after the US meeting. Both presidents resisted but then acquiesced to being tested.
Just three days before his positive result, Mr Bolsonaro was spotted celebrating America’s Fourth of July holiday with his top cabinet members at the US ambassador’s residence.
Images of the event show the President and ambassador standing side-by-side, mask-less and smiling, seemingly without regard for social distancing measures.
It reads like another symbol. This time, it’s about solidarity in strategy.
Brazil and the US leaders continue to pull from the same playbook, trivialising the severity of the virus as other global powerhouses see signs that stricter lockdown measures might pay off.
The US and Brazil consistently lead the world in daily tolls.
Since testing positive, Mr Bolsonaro has already affirmed his desire to ease restrictions and save the economy, but maybe his condition could change something.
Personal experiences can give politicians a tidy occasion to rewrite a narrative, and right now, Brazil’s plot line features a competition for the world’s least desirable titles — most deaths, most cases, worst response.
But judging by the current script, the more predictable ending is that Mr Bolsonaro will look to Mr Trump’s political success or failure for lessons on how to turn Brazil into America’s tragic sequel.