Three South American heads-of-state test positive for COVID-19

By Annie Smith

As South America battles COVID-19 as the world’s new epicentre for the virus, three top world leaders from the continent have tested positive for coronavirus. Presidents of Brazil, Bolivia, and Honduras have all announced positive test results in the last month.

After dismissing the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, and face coverings, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Speaking to press on Tuesday, President Bolsonaro wore a face mask in a rare show of following protocol. He stated that his symptoms of a high temperature and cough began on Sunday and got tested the next day after feeling worse. 

At the age of 65 and due to his medical history after being stabbed in 2018, President Bolsonaro is among the Brazilians who are high risk.

At the press briefing, he also stated that he has taken hydroxychloroquine, a drug previously advocated by President Donald Trump for fighting the coronavirus, and antibiotic azithromycin to treat his illness, yet neither have been proven to be effective against COVID-19.

Along with Bolsonaro, Bolivia’s interim president Jeanine Añez and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández announced this week that they had tested positive for COVID-19. And in Venezuela, second-in-command Diosdado Cabello announced that he had also tested positive. 

Speaking in a Twitter video, President Añez told followers, “Together with my whole team we have been working for Bolivian families all this time. And since the last week many of them tested positive for coronavirus, I had a test and also tested positive. I will be in quarantine for about 14 days until I have a new test to see how I am doing.” 

She continued, “I feel well, I feel strong. I will continue to work virtually from my isolation and I want to thank all the Bolivians who work to help in this health crisis that we have. Together we will get ahead. May God bless you.” 

Along with Añez, at least four other top government officials in Bolivia, including Health Minister María Eidy Roca, Minister of the Presidency Yerko Núñez Negrette, Minister of Mines Jorge Fernando Oropeza, and the commander of the armed forces, Gen. Sergio Orellana.

Last month, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández confirmed that he had tested positive for COVID-19 via a televised address to the country. He told viewers that he had only suffered from mild symptoms and had been receiving treatment. 

His wife and several aides had also tested positive, although the first lady, Ana García de Hernández, has been asymptomatic so far. 

In the address, he stated, “We continue in the fight, and we trust in God that we are going to get ahead of this situation. I personally trust God, Honduran doctors and the medicine that we’re using to combat this disease.”

Previously, far-right populist President Bolsonaro of Brazil has been criticised for not taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously. In the past few months, he has attended events wearing masks incorrectly or not at all, and in March, he claimed that if he was infected, he would quickly recover due to his “athlete’s background.” 

In the same month, he also claimed, “After being stabbed, I’m not going to be brought down by a little flu,” referencing his 2018 attack.

On the news of his positive test, the President’s former health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, criticised the president’s behaviour, citing, “Going around Brasília, without a mask, hugging people … he was flirting with infection – and he was infected.”

While he said that he believed President Bolsonaro would be fine, he noted that in the Brazil’s capital district, nearly all intensive care units were on the verge of collapse.

Brazil is currently the second hardest-hit nation in the world for COVID-19, behind the United States, with over 1.7 million total cases and 68,000 deaths. Yet the country has struggled with a number of issues against its fight, from lack of hospital resources to inadequate testing. Compared to the United States, with 119,267 tests per 1M population, Brazil stands at just 21,021 tests per 1 million.

Meanwhile, Honduras currently ranks 52nd in the world for its total number of cases, 28,090, with an average of 568 new cases a day and 19 new deaths. Ranked at 38th for its total number of cases, 49,250, Bolivia sees an average of 1,358 new cases a day and 54 new deaths. 

Neither of the three nations appear to have beaten the first wave of COVID-19 or have any signs of cases or deaths slowing down.

It is yet to be seen if these presidents’ experience with COVID-19 will influence their policy and enact stricter measures against the novel coronavirus. 

On 27 March, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for COVID-19, leading him to self-isolate and eventually be hospitalised. Since then, he has praised the NHS and emphasised the importance of following government guidelines on social distancing, yet there is little evidence that his being infected changed his policy on fighting the pandemic.

Other world leaders who have tested positive include the Prince Charles; Sophie Trudeau, the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister; Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin; and Prince Albert II of Monaco.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and may not represent the views of The St Andrews Economist

Photo by Palácio do Planalto and is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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