After much speculation on Monday night over President Jair Bolsonaro’s health, the Brazilian president publicly declared that he has tested positive for coronavirus, as was broken earlier today by The Brazilian Report. Yet, prior to testing positive for Covid-19, Mr. Bolsonaro may have had close contact with at least nine top government officials, Santa Catarina state authorities, and the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman over the past few days, raising concerns over important government figures who might have been exposed to a deadly virus.
On Saturday, President Bolsonaro attended a Fourth of July celebration at the house of Mr. Chapman, along with five of his cabinet ministers, and one of his sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro. During the event in Brasília, no government official — including Mr. Bolsonaro himself — appeared to be wearing face masks or respecting social distancing guidelines.
On social media, Mr. Bolsonaro appeared in a picture side-by-side with Mr. Chapman and Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Araújo. Mr. Chapman and other U.S officials present at the event have undergone Covid-19 tests, and the ambassador’s results have come back negative.
Among other Brazilian officials in attendance were Government Secretary Luiz Ramos (64), Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva (66), Chief of Staff Walter Braga Netto (63), and Special Secretary of Strategic Affairs Flávio Rocha. All but Mr. Rocha are considered as being in the risk group for Covid-19.
The president also visited state officials in Santa Catarina on Saturday to oversee the damage caused by an unexpected “bomb cyclone” in the region last week. State officials have already announced they will take coronavirus tests.
On Monday, Mr. Bolsonaro met with Economy Minister Paulo Guedes (70), who will also undergo testing, after working closely with the president on at least seven occasions in the last 14 days.
The president of Caixa, Brazil’s largest federal bank, Pedro Guimarães (49) and Regional Development Minister Rogério Marinho (56) have also been preemptively tested, with Mr. Marinho testing negative.
In total, the president has had contact with at least 55 politicians and businessmen over the last week.
Worrisome track record
Fears over a larger spread of the virus within Mr. Bolsonaro’s administration are further heightened given the president’s poor track record of following Covid-19 protective guidelines.
During a pro-government protest in May, Mr. Bolsonaro – known for downplaying the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic – had direct contact with at least 272 people, without wearing a mask, and was seen shaking hands and taking cellphone pictures with supporters.
That dangerous physical proximity between Mr. Bolsonaro and his supporters continued throughout June, despite Brazil crossing the 1 million-threshold for Covid-19 cases midway through the month. In recent days, the president has also lifted previous mandatory requirements for the use of masks inside prisons, stores, industrial sites, and religious temples, as previously covered by The Brazilian Report.
The press and Bolsonaro
During his public address to announce he had tested positive for Covid-19, President Bolsonaro removed his mask in front of reporters to prove he was still “well.”
"You see my face, I’m fine!"— DW News (@dwnews) July 7, 2020
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro gave the thumbs up and took off his mask, after announcing he tested positive for COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/CTiGUNz4Ni
The act was seen by many as irresponsible and disrespectful by the president, who exposed all the journalists involved. A few hours later, the Federal District’s Journalists Union requested all media outlets to suspend coverage of the president’s official residence while Mr. Bolsonaro poses a health threat to the journalists in attendance. The trade union did not rule out taking legal action against the president if any of the journalists involved in his press conference on Tuesday test positive for Covid-19, as reported by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.Support this coverage →