Key Brazil minister tests positive for COVID-19

Brasília (AFP) –


A key player in Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's government, National Security Minister Augusto Heleno, said Wednesday he had tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The retired army general, whose job includes running the intelligence services, is the latest in a string of Brazilian officials to be diagnosed with COVID-19 following a presidential trip to the United States during which they met President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Sixteen people who accompanied Bolsonaro on the trip have now tested positive for the virus, including his communications chief, a senator and Brazil's top diplomat to the United States.

"The result of my second test... came back positive. I am awaiting the results of a follow-up test," Heleno, the former head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, wrote on Twitter.

"I do not have a fever or any other symptom associated with COVID-19. I am in isolation at home and will not answer phone calls," added the 72-year-old minister.

Bolsonaro has tested negative for the virus, as has Trump, the far-right leader's political role-model.

Both presidents have faced criticism over their handling of the pandemic.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly condemned what he calls the "hysteria" surrounding the virus, and shook hands and took selfies with supporters at a rally Sunday, ignoring his own health ministry's advice to isolate himself because of his contact with infected officials.

He said Tuesday his second test for COVID-19 had also come back negative. Under Brazilian health ministry protocol, he is supposed to take a final test in one week's time and remain in isolation until then.

But he has shown no indication he plans to follow the recommendation, saying he will throw himself a 65th birthday party Saturday.

Brazil -- the biggest country in Latin America, with 210 million people -- has confirmed 291 coronavirus cases. It reported its first death from the virus Tuesday.