Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro spent months downplaying Covid-19 and refusing to take measures to protect himself and the people around him. He visited stores; he let supporters congregate around him; he shook hands – all without wearing a mask. On July 4, he and his ministers posted pictures of a luncheon at the US ambassador’s residence – again none wore a mask.
On July 7, he told reporters he had tested positive for the coronavirus. He did not seem surprised. He said that he had previously thought he could have contracted Covid-19 earlier in the year because of his close contact with people, but may have been asymptomatic. That makes his disregard for World Health Organization (WHO) social distancing recommendations even more disturbing.
This time, he was wearing a mask, but spoke less than a meter away from some reporters. Then, he stepped back, took off his mask, and continued talking to them.
People can spread the virus through droplets expelled while coughing or talking.
The WHO recommends that anyone who tests positive for the virus or has symptoms wear a medical mask and self-isolate.
Bolsonaro has not only put those near him at risk; his policies endanger all people in the country.
Brazil has 1.6 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 65,000 deaths, the second-highest toll after the United States.
To reporters, Bolsonaro repeated his mantra that people should go back to work, and said that “The virus is like rain, which is going to get to you.”
Bolsonaro has disseminated misleading information and sabotaged efforts to fight Covid-19. His administration has tried to block states from imposing social distancing rules and to withhold Covid-19 data from the public.
Bolsonaro fired his health minister for defending WHO recommendations and pushed his replacement to quit. An active-duty general without public health experience is now acting health minister.
Just this week, Bolsonaro vetoed legislation requiring the use of masks in Brazil’s unsanitary and overcrowded prisons and juvenile detention centers. Covid-19 has infected more than 11,000 people in those facilities and killed 127, the majority of them staff, according to the latest data from the National Council of Justice.
Asked in April about Covid-19’s mounting death toll, Bolsonaro answered: “So what? I am sorry. What do you want me to do?”
Taking measures to protect people in Brazil, including those around him, from contracting the disease would be a good start.