07/07/2020 8:57 PM IST

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Tests Positive For Coronavirus

The far-right leader has spent months downplaying the severity of COVID-19 even as cases surge in Brazil.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus after spending months flouting public health guidelines and dismissing the threat posed by a pandemic that has killed more than half a million people worldwide.

Bolsonaro, 65, said Monday that he had been tested for the virus and that an exam had showed his lungs were “clean.” Bolsonaro told reporters Tuesday that his test results came back positive, CNN Brazil reported.

The Brazilian president has long been dismissive of the virus, even as hundreds of thousands of people in his country have tested positive. He has called COVID-19 a “little flu,” urged local governors to lift lockdown orders and continued to step out in public without any major precautions, venturing into crowds without a face covering and shaking hands with the public.

“We are sorry for all the dead, but that’s everyone’s destiny,” he said last month as cases rose dramatically.

Bolsonaro was tested at least three times for the virus in March after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, and all those tests came back negative. 

A Brazilian judge ordered the far-right president to wear a mask in public last month after he attended a spate of political rallies without one, even as cases surged throughout the country. At the time, the judge said no one was “above the law” and that Bolsonaro had a “clear intent to break the rules.”

More than 1.6 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Brazil, and at least 65,000 people have died there. Only the U.S. has had more cases and more deaths.

In June, Brazil removed detailed numbers on coronavirus cases from the Health Ministry’s website, claiming without evidence that the figures had been inflated by local officials. The country’s Supreme Court ordered the data to be restored days later amid claims that Bolsonaro’s government had attempted to mask how severe the outbreak had grown in the country.

The government’s efforts to interfere with coronavirus data came even as positive tests spread through the top echelons of the Brazilian government. In March, Bolsonaro’s top press secretary tested positive for COVID-19.