Bolsonaro’s diagnosis marks ‘beginning of the end’ for his administration

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A file photo dated March 01, 2020 shows President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro (L) along with his wife Michelle Bolsonaro (R) arriving at the inauguration ceremony of Uruguay’s new President Luis Lacalle Pou, at the Plaza Independencia in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Carlos Lebrato | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s positive diagnosis for the coronavirus marks the “beginning of the end” of his administration, one analyst told CNBC, while others expect the right-wing leader to double down on his highly-criticized pandemic response.

Bolsonaro told reporters in a television interview on Tuesday that he had tested positive for Covid-19 after experiencing symptoms for the disease over the weekend.

He claimed he now felt “very well,” saying the high temperature he had experienced on Sunday had since gone down.

The president also said he was taking hydroxychloroquine — an anti-malaria drug championed by his ideological ally, President Donald Trump — and azithromycin, an antibiotic, to treat the virus.

Neither of the drugs have been proven to be an effective prophylactic or treatment for Covid-19.

The diagnosis comes after Brazil’s president consistently dismissed the threat of the virus for months. He has previously described the disease as nothing more than “a little flu” and claimed his past as an athlete would make him immune to the worst symptoms.

“Despite publicly shrugging off his positive test for Covid-19, it marks the beginning of the end of his administration,” Robert Muggah, director of the Igarape Institute, a think tank based in Rio de Janeiro, told CNBC via email.

“It is yet another visible expression of his recklessness and ineptitude,” Muggah said, before adding the country was still without a coordinated national strategy to tackle the outbreak.

A government spokesperson was not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC on Wednesday.

To date, Brazil has recorded more than 1.6 million cases of the coronavirus, with 66,741 related deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. It means the country is second only to the U.S. for the highest number of confirmed cases.

Bolsonaro has insisted throughout the pandemic that maintaining social distancing and avoiding public gatherings are unnecessary when it comes to tackling the spread of the virus. Instead, he has claimed abiding by these guidelines will negatively impact the country’s economic recovery.

Bolsonaro “publicly derided preventive measures undertaken by states and cities, urging Brazilians to prioritize the economy over saving lives. He ignored a court order to wear a mask, scorned physical distancing, and, inevitably, caught the virus,” Muggah said.

‘Highly unlikely’ to change the government’s pandemic response

Thomaz Favaro, a Sao Paulo-based analyst for the consultancy Control Risks, told CNBC via email that the president’s diagnosis was “highly unlikely” to change the government’s response to the pandemic.

“In fact, when announcing the exam results in a press conference, President Jair Bolsonaro reiterated most of the arguments that have guided his administration’s response to date: He downplayed the severity of the illness, opposed social distancing measures implemented by mayors and governors, and further recommended the use of chloroquine.”

“The diagnosis, however, partially shifts the spotlight on Bolsonaro away from his role as policymaker, refocusing instead on his individual drama as another victim of the pandemic,” Favaro continued. “This is a much better position for Bolsonaro considering the poor results that his administration has been delivered so far and the steep rise in cases and fatalities.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro looks on during ceremony to inaugurate the Main Spacial Operations Center (COPE-P) amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at the Comando de Operações Aeroespaciais on June 23, 2020 in Brasilia.

Andressa Anholete | Getty Images

At 65 years old, Bolsonaro is in a higher-risk category due to his age.

Bolsonaro is not the first world leader to be infected with the virus: United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tested positive in April, suffered symptoms so severe that he was transferred to an intensive care unit for multiple days.

More recently, Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez was discharged from hospital earlier this month, 16 days after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

What does this mean for Brazil’s economy?

Jimena Blanco, head of Latin America at Verisk Maplecroft, also said Bolsonaro testing positive for Covid-19 was unlikely to change the government’s response to the pandemic “in any substantial manner.”

Satere-Mawe indigenous leader Valdiney Satere, 43, collects caferana, a native plant of the Amazon rainforest used as medicinal herb, to treat people showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in their community Wakiru, in Taruma neighbourhood, a rural area west of Manaus, Amazonas State, Brazil, on May 17, 2020.

RICARDO OLIVEIRA | AFP via Getty Images

“In the short-term, the news should have limited impact on the economy, which has been battered by the pandemic,” she said, noting that the official expectation of a 4.7% contraction to gross domestic product in 2020 had set the stage for Brazil to record its biggest fall in GDP for 120 years.

“However, should the president’s health deteriorate, questions over a potential succession and the intensification of political maneuvering would increase market uncertainty. This would trigger further short-term volatility in the stock and currency markets,” she said.

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