Boris Johnson and Jair Bolsonaro are other world leaders who have contradicted coronavirus
US President Donald Trump is not the only leader on the world stage to have contracted coronavirus.
His positive test, announced in the early hours of Friday, puts him in the company of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
Of those, Johnson fell the most gravely ill after he tested positive for the virus at the end of March. He spent a week in hospital, with three nights in intensive care and, on being discharged admitted “things could have gone either way” for him. Even after leaving the hospital, he had to spend time recuperating at his official country residence, Chequers.
Johnson’s illness, at the height of Britain’s first wave of infections, complicated the government’s response, not least because the virus spread through the government’s ranks in Westminster.
Trump and his wife Melania, who has also tested positive for the virus, may be asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms, as was the case with Britain’s health minister Matt Hancock.
At 74 years old and overweight, Trump — who has spent months playing down the severity of the pandemic as US deaths have surpassed 207,000 — falls into the highest risk category for serious complications from the disease. But the first lady, age 50, is likely to be at a lower risk of serious illness.
Johnson tweeted his best wishes to Trump and the first lady, saying he hoped “they both have a speedy recovery from coronavirus.”
The US President and first lady can expect to receive the best care the country can offer. But some fear that the full picture is not being given.
Even when the British Prime Minister was in hospital, daily briefings from Downing Street breezily proclaimed he was in “good spirits” when in fact — by Johnson’s own account later — the situation was significantly more serious.
Disregard for masks, distancing
In Brazil, populist leader Bolsonaro spent months downplaying the threat from coronavirus, like Trump, dismissing it as just a “little flu” and assuring his compatriots they had little to fear.
The 65-year-old has similarly shown disdain for precautions such as mask-wearing and social distancing, both before and since his positive test in early July.
Less than two weeks after testing positive, Bolsonaro took a walk in the grounds of his presidential palace and greeted a crowd of supporters, video broadcast live on his Facebook page showed.
While the Brazilian President wore a mask, he was closely flanked by a number of aides who did not appear to consistently maintain a significant social distance from him. He repeatedly lowered his mask while talking, including when aides were nearby.
Others in his government were also affected by the virus. Two Brazilian ministers and three other high-ranking government officials confirmed they also had tested positive before the end of July.
Brazil is among the countries worst hit by Covid-19, second only to the United States in the number of deaths, with more than 144,000 recorded, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. The United Kingdom has the fifth-highest number of recorded coronavirus deaths in the world, at more than 42,000.
Both Johnson and Bolsonaro appeared to receive a boost in public support after their bouts with coronavirus.
Polling organization YouGov tweeted Friday that Johnson saw a second small increase in his already rising personal approval rating, from 54% to 60%, specifically following his hospitalization. However, this was not the case for his government, which had already seen a surge in support four days before his positive test, YouGov said. Johnson’s personal approval rating had tumbled to 35% as of September 28, according to YouGov polling.
In August, a month after his own positive test, Bolsonaro saw the highest approval rate for his government since the beginning of its term in January 2019, according to a survey from Datafolha, Brazil’s largest opinion polling institute.
The poll indicated that 37% of Brazilians considered Bolsonaro’s government “good or excellent” in August, up 5% from the previous survey in July.
Concern for Trump aides and Biden
It’s unclear how many staffers in the White House or senior Republican figures may have to isolate after coming into contact with Trump or those close to him.
The President had said late Thursday night that he planned to quarantine after one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks, tested positive for the infection, bringing the disease into his innermost circle.
While the White House frequently touts its extensive testing regimen for the President and those who come into close proximity with him — aides have deemed him the “most tested man in the country” — the infections have underscored the shortcomings in relying on tests alone to prevent contagion.
In May, two White House staffers, including a member of the Navy who serves as one of Trump’s personal valets, tested positive for the virus, and in July a cafeteria employee on the White House grounds tested positive as well. The President confirmed a fourth positive case on White House grounds last month.
There will also be concern in Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s camp that he may have been exposed to the virus.
He and Trump shared a stage Tuesday night in the first presidential debate — an event characterized by ill-tempered shouting, at which Trump mocked Biden for frequently wearing a mask.
In contrast to the Trump White House, which has hosted political events where little sign of social distancing or mask wearing was in evidence, Russia’s Vladimir Putin has surrounded himself with an extreme protective “bubble” to avoid contracting the virus.
In June, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed that special disinfectant tunnels had been installed in the Kremlin and at the President’s residence outside Moscow, where Putin had been largely working remotely.
Putin’s caution did not prevent those around him from becoming infected. Peskov himself was hospitalized with Covid-19 in May. Prime Minister Mishustin was also hospitalized and Minister of Culture Olga Lyubimova and Minister of Housing Vladimir Yakushev tested positive for the virus.
In April, Peskov said that everyone meeting with the Russian President would be tested for coronavirus and that all such appointments would be held with social distancing in place.
Putin on Friday sent Trump a telegram to wish him and Melania a speedy recovery. “I am sure that your inherent vitality, good spirits and optimism will help you cope with the dangerous virus,” the Russian President said, according to a Kremlin readout of the telegram.
The virus showed early on that it was no respecter of rank.
High-profile European figures to have contracted coronavirus include the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who tested positive on March 19, and Britain’s Prince Charles, who confirmed he had the virus just a few days later.
A number of senior officials were infected in Iran, including Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi in February and Iran’s former foreign minister and adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ali Akbar Velayati, in March. Another Khamenei adviser, Mohammad Mirmohammadi, 71, and one of the country’s top clerics, Hadi Khosroshahi, both died with the virus.
In Australia, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also tested positive in March.