Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Brazilian president, who has consistently downplayed the dangers of the virus, revealed his positive test result during nationally televised remarks Tuesday. "It came back positive," he told reporters from behind a mask.
He is just the second major world leader, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to confirm he contracted the virus.
With more than 1.6 million confirmed cases as of Tuesday, Brazil is in the throes of the world's second-largest outbreak, behind only the U.S. More than 65,000 people there have died of complications linked with COVID-19 — a towering death toll that again stands second only to that of the U.S. And because of a significant lag in testing, Brazilian researchers believe the real numbers are much, much higher than the official tallies.
Yet Bolsonaro, 65, has repeatedly doubted the severity of the virus since it first found a foothold in Brazil, reportedly in late February. A key ally of U.S. President Trump, the right-wing Brazilian leader has called the coronavirus "a little flu," accused the media of hysteria and campaigned against the shutdowns implemented by local leaders.
"I'm sorry," Bolsonaro said in April, after the country's death toll reached 5,000, "but what do you want me to do about it?"
Tens of thousands of deaths later, Bolsonaro has remained firmly supportive of reopening and skeptical of social distancing, both for others and himself.
Last week, he vetoed legislation that would have mandated the use of face masks in schools, churches and businesses. During a luncheon hosted last Saturday by the U.S. ambassador in Brazil, the Bolsonaro was photographed embracing his foreign affairs minister, flashing a smile and a thumbs-up.
The American ambassador, Todd Chapman, was seated on the other side of the president. Neither Bolsonaro nor Chapman nor any of the other men in the image was wearing a mask.
NPR's Philip Reeves contributed to this report.
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