Brazil's Bolsonaro tests negative for coronavirus

Brasília (AFP) –


Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Friday he had tested negative for the new coronavirus, after a scare over a trip on which at least one infected member of his staff rubbed shoulders with Donald Trump.

"The Armed Forces Hospital and (diagnostic laboratory) Sabin have returned a negative test result for COVID-19 for the President of the Republic Jair Bolsonaro," said a post on the far-right leader's Facebook page.

It was accompanied by a picture of Bolsonaro flashing an obscene arm gesture at the press.

"Don't believe in the fake news media!" said a second message.

Media reports said earlier that Bolsonaro had tested positive for coronavirus and was awaiting the results of a second test to confirm.

Bolsonaro, who had previously called coronavirus fears "overblown," was left in a delicate position Thursday by news that his communications chief, Fabio Wajngarten, had tested positive for COVID-19.

The test result came after a trip to the United States, during which both Bolsonaro and Wajngarten met Saturday with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and a slate of top US officials.

Wearing a face mask, Bolsonaro said in a video address Thursday night that he would know "in the next few hours" whether he was infected with the virus that has caused a global pandemic.

He cancelled a scheduled trip to northeastern Brazil on Thursday and had no events on his agenda Friday. An AFP photographer captured pictures of him wearing a face mask inside the presidential palace.

Bolsonaro took his test result as a personal victory.

The image he chose to accompany his Facebook post neatly summed up the provocative persona of a president who has been dubbed the "Tropical Trump."

Bolsonaro, a former army captain who is openly nostalgic for Brazil's military dictatorship (1964-1985), has repeatedly made the arm gesture -- widely known as an "F-U," "Italian salute," "Iberian slap," "bras d'honneur" or, in Brazil, "banana" -- at journalists, accusing the media of being biased against him.

- Breathing distance from Trump -

The episode means the new coronavirus likely arrived within breathing distance of the US president.

Wajngarten was photographed side-by-side with Trump on Saturday, both with hats reading, "Make Brazil Great Again."

He later came down with symptoms of the disease, and the government announced he had tested positive -- though he had earlier attacked the "rotten" media when reports about his health emerged, insisting he was "fine."

Bolsonaro's office said all officials who were with him in the United States were being tested. They included the defense, security and foreign ministers, as well as the president's son Eduardo, a federal lawmaker.

Trump, however, said he was "not concerned," a day after announcing a shock 30-day ban on travel from mainland Europe because of the pandemic.

The White House said the president had minimal interaction with Wajngarten and did not need testing.