Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly minimized the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis, has now tested positive for the illnessBrazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly minimized the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis, has now tested positive for the illness (AFP Photo/Sergio LIMA)
Brasília (AFP) - Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro -- an outspoken skeptic about the seriousness of the coronavirus -- announced Tuesday he had tested positive but said he was feeling "perfectly well" and had only mild symptoms.
The far-right leader has caused huge controversy in Brazil for repeatedly flouting lockdown measures in place to curb the spread of the virus, which has killed 65,000 people and infected 1.6 million more in the South American giant.
The test "has come out and it's positive," Bolsonaro said in a television interview from his residence in the capital Brasilia, adding that he was taking hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat the illness.
Hydroxychloroquine is a medication usually used to treat malaria and lupus, while azithromycin is an antibiotic that can be used to treat pneumonia.
At 65, Bolsonaro is in one of the highest risk categories for a virus that has killed more than half a million people worldwide and infected nearly 12 million.
Bolsonaro said he started feeling unwell on Sunday and felt worse on Monday, feeling "tiredness, illness and a fever of 38 degrees" Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit).
But he insisted he was feeling "good, calm" and took off his face mask to emphasize the point.
"Life goes on. We're going to take care, particularly of old people and those with illnesses that are a risk factor," he added -- before repeating his mantra that the "collateral effects" of the virus should not be worse than the illness itself.
- President among the people -
Since the beginning of the virus outbreak, Bolsonaro has minimized the risks of what he initially called "a little flu" while flouting social distancing rules and other prevention measures.
On Monday, he watered down for a second time a law that would require citizens to wear face masks in public.
"I'm the president ... I like to be among the people and given that intense contact, I thought I could have already caught it previously without knowing," said Bolsonaro, admitting that he wasn't surprised at the result of Monday's test.
Bolsonaro confirmed press reports that he had cancelled his engagements over the coming days and would work by video conference from the official residence while receiving medical treatment.
Brazil is the second worst-hit country in the world by the pandemic in terms of death and number of infections, after the United States.
"No country is immune, and no country is safe, and no individual can be safe," said World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, before wishing Bolsonaro a "fast recovery."
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, had been tested three times previously -- all came back negative.
In March, he claimed the virus could not seriously affect him because of his "athletic past" and that since being stabbed in the abdomen on the campaign trail in 2018, a "little flu" couldn't floor him.
He also has been criticized for a perceived lack of empathy to virus victims.
- Competing Twitter hashtags -
Brazil has never rolled out a unified strategy to tackle the crisis, and there have been clashes between state governors and the federal government.
Bolsonaro has also parted ways with two health ministers during the crisis over strategy disagreements.
One of the main sticking points was Brazil's decision to recommend the use of the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 despite a lack of scientific consensus on their potential effectiveness.
Bolsonaro remains convinced of its healing properties. His ally US President Donald Trump revealed in May that he was taking the medication as a precaution.
During Bolsonaro's tenure, Brazil has become increasingly politically polarized, and news of his positive result set social media websites raging.
The hashtags "come on corona" and "come on Bolsonaro" were both trending on Twitter.