A group representing Brazilian journalists says it will file suit against the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, after he took off a protective mask as he spoke with reporters about his COVID-19 diagnosis.
The Brazilian Press Association, or ABI, said in a statement that Bolsonaro had unnecessarily endangered a small group of journalists who interviewed him at his official residence. At one point during the interview on Tuesday, Bolsonaro, who is 65, backed away from reporters and then removed his mask, ostensibly to show that he was doing well.
“Despite knowing he was infected with COVID-19, President Jair Bolsonaro continues to act in a criminal manner and endanger the lives of others,” ABI President Paulo Jeronimo de Sousa said in a statement.
“The country cannot watch continued behavior that is beyond irresponsible and constitutes clear crimes against public health, without reacting,” he said.
ABI said the Brazilian president had violated a section of the country’s criminal code that prohibits knowingly transmitting a serious disease to others or any act that may cause contagion.
Bolsonaro told reporters that he had undergone a lung X-ray after feeling feverish and experiencing muscle aches and malaise. As of Tuesday, he said that his fever was down, and he credited hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that was also touted by President Trump as a treatment, but that has failed to show any efficacy in several studies. Health experts have also warned about the drug’s potentially deadly side effects.
Following the announcement of his test results, Bolsonaro posting a video to Facebook showing him taking hydroxychloroquine.
“For those who root against hydroxychloroquine, but don’t present alternatives, I regret to inform you that I’m very well with its use and, with God’s grace, I will live for a long time still,” he said.
Bolsonaro, who has for months downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, presides over a country with an infection and death rate from the disease second only to the U.S., which leads the world. According to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University, more than 1.7 million Brazilians have been confirmed infected and nearly 68,000 have died from the disease.
He has dismissed COVID-19 as a “little flu,” and often appears in public, shaking hands and without a mask. Bolsonaro has also said that the economic damage from COVID-19 is worse than the lives lost to the disease and said there is no way to prevent 70% of the country’s 210 million people from contracting the virus.
Separately, Facebook on Wednesday suspended a network of social media accounts indirectly tied to Bolsonaro and his two sons that it said were used to spread the president’s claims that COVID-19 risks are exaggerated.
Facebook said it found links between the fake accounts and the staff of Bolsonaro, his two sons, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro and Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, and two Brazilian lawmakers.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, told Reuters that the accounts were used for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to, among other things, amplify Bolsonaro’s views on COVID-19.