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Is Brazil's President Among The Country's People Infected With COVID-19?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Brazil has more coronavirus cases than any other country except for the United States. Its health ministry says 1.6 million people are now infected. And the question is, is the president, Jair Bolsonaro, among them? Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: When the pandemic began, Bolsonaro called the virus a little flu. He accused the media of hysteria. He derided governors and mayors for urging everyone to stay home. In April, Brazil's death toll reached 5,000. He was asked for his reaction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "So what?" Bolsonaro says. "I'm sorry, but what do you want me to do about it?" Since then, COVID-19 has killed more than 65,000 Brazilians. Speculation that Bolsonaro has COVID-19 has been going on for months. It started after he dined with his friend and ally President Trump in Florida in March. Multiple members of Bolsonaro's delegation later tested positive. Bolsonaro had three tests after that - all negative, say officials. Yesterday, he had another. The Brazilian media says he has light symptoms of COVID-19, including fever and a cough. His office says his test results will be released today. Bolsonaro's moderated his tone recently.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REEVES: (Speaking Portuguese).

BOLSONARO: He's paid homage to Brazil's victims in a Facebook broadcast with an accordionist seated behind him playing "Ave Maria."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACCORDIONIST: (Playing accordion).

REEVES: Yet Bolsonaro is still pushing cities to reopen, even before the pandemics peaked in Brazil. He's also undermining social distancing. In the last few days, he's vetoed legislation making masks mandatory in schools, churches, businesses and prisons. On Saturday, he attended a Fourth of July lunch with U.S. Ambassador Todd Chapman and released pictures afterwards. Neither man is shown wearing a mask, nor are they two meters apart. Jair Bolsonaro is 65. That means he's in the group most at risk. He once said he wouldn't worry if he catches the virus because of his history as an athlete. That boast may now be put to the test.

Philip Reeves, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO FT. ANDREYA TRIANA'S "EYESDOWN (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.