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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Tests Positive For Covid-19


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer


Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at a campaign rally in 2018. Antonio Scorza/

Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil and a world leader in denial of Covid-19's threat, has tested positive for the virus but has not changed his tune on the disease. How his symptoms progress could have a major impact on the response to the pandemic in Brazil, and to some extent worldwide.

On Monday, Brazilian news outlets reported Bolsonaro had a fever and other symptoms of the disease. On Tuesday he confirmed on live TV that his viral test was positive for SARS CoV-2, after previously describing a lung scan as “clean”.


Outside Brazil Bolsonaro is often referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics”. Despite many similarities in their styles and policies, there have also been big differences in their reaction to the pandemic. Where Trump has changed his position many times, ranging from dismissing the virus as a hoax to blaming China, to boasting the US has the best Covid results in the world, Bolsonaro has been much more consistent.

From the start Bolsonaro has denied that Covid-19 represents a serious threat to health, calling it “a little flu”. He has attacked attempts by governors to control the disease, even joining protests, fired his health minister for taking it seriously, and even defied judicial orders. His only concession has been to promote hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug Trump touted whose benefits against the virus remain highly uncertain

Widespread outbreaks of the virus did not take hold in Brazil until well after the death toll was climbing in several other countries, but Bolsonaro squandered any opportunity for disease control. Brazil now has the second-highest number of cases and deaths globally. Those figures in part reflect the nation's immense population, but even in per capita terms it is rapidly overtaking nations that were hit much earlier.

Although he has repeatedly set himself against the best scientific advice, and all available evidence, Bolsonaro can be given credit for consistency even when it is his own life in danger, declaring, “There's no reason for fear. That's life. Life goes on,"


At 65, Bolsonaro is well into the age range where Covid-19 deaths are common. Nevertheless, even at his age, the majority of those infected survive, often with quite light symptoms. If that is the case for Bolsonaro, there is a danger he will double-down on his claims the condition is minor, along with his faith in hydroxychloroquine, and those who listen to him will have their beliefs reinforced. On the other hand, if Bolsonaro's symptoms worsen to the point he requires intensive care, and particularly if he dies, it could change the tide of public debate, despite the minimal scientific relevance of a sample size of one.

The Prime Ministers of Russia, the UK, and Guinea-Bissau, and President of Honduras, have previously tested positive for the virus, along with an array of senior ministers in other countries. The president of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza died of a heart attack in June, shortly after his wife was hospitalized for Covid-19. 


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