BRASILIA: Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro said Friday (Mar 13) 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 US President Donald Trump.
The far-right Brazilian president posted his test result to his Facebook page, along with a picture of himself flashing an obscene arm gesture.
"Don't believe in the fake news media!" he wrote.
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 Bolsonaro and Wajngarten met Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and a slate of top US officials Saturday at Trump's Florida golf resort.
Wearing a face mask, Bolsonaro said in a video address late Thursday that he would know "in the next few hours" whether he was infected with the virus that has caused sparked a pandemic.
He cancelled a 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 residence.
After announcing his test result, he left for the presidential offices, without the face mask, greeting supporters from a distance and declining to speak with journalists.
Bolsonaro took his test result as a personal victory.
The picture he posted to Facebook with his test result neatly summed up the provocative persona of a president who has been dubbed the "Trump of the Tropics."
Bolsonaro has repeatedly made the arm gesture in the photo - 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 been 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."
The aide later came down with symptoms of the disease, and the government announced he had tested positive - though he had earlier attacked the "putrid" 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 defence, security and foreign ministers, as well as the president's son Eduardo, a federal lawmaker.
Eduardo, who was photographed alongside Trump's daughter Ivanka during the trip, said he and Security Minister Augusto Heleno had also tested negative.
Brazil has reported 77 coronavirus cases, with no deaths so far.
"Now is the time for us to reassure the Brazilian people that there is nothing to worry about," presidential spokesman Otavio Rego Barros said in a televised address after Bolsonaro announced his test result.
Trump said Thursday he was "not concerned" about his contact with the Brazilian delegation, 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.
But the mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, who met with the Brazilian delegation Monday, said he had tested positive for COVID-19.
He said in a video message he felt "completely healthy and strong" but would take all precautions recommended by health authorities, including remaining in isolation.