COVID-19 hits Latin leaders

Jair Bolsonaro is among 42 political leaders or government figures hit by Covid-19 in South America.
Jair Bolsonaro is among 42 political leaders or government figures hit by Covid-19 in South America.

The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping through the leadership of Latin America, with two more presidents and powerful officials testing positive this week, adding another destabilising element to the region's public health and economic crises.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, 65, announced his illness Tuesday and is using it to publicly extol hydroxychloroquine, the unproven malaria drug that he's been promoting as a treatment for COVID-19, and now takes himself.

Bolivian interim President Jeanine Anez, 53, made her own diagnosis public on Thursday, throwing her already troubled political prospects into further doubt.

In Venezuela on the same day, 57-year-old socialist party chief Diosdado Cabello said on Twitter that he, too, had tested positive, while the country's Oil Minister Tarek El Aissami, announced on Friday he has the bug.

There are at least 42 confirmed cases of coronavirus in South American leaders ranging from presidents to mayors of major cities, along with dozens, likely hundreds, of officials from smaller cities and towns. In most cases, high-ranking officials recovered and are back at work. But several are still struggling with the disease.

Many leaders have used their diagnosis to call on the public to heighten precautions like social distancing and mask wearing. But some including Bolsonaro have drawn attention to unproven treatments with potentially harmful side effects.

Like Bolsonaro, many Latin leaders have kept up a schedule of public appearances even as the region has become one of the hardest-hit in the world.

That poses a growing risk to governance in the region, said Felicia Knaul, a professor of medicine who directs the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas at the University of Miami.

"We're trying to keep our health providers safe. It's the same for our government leaders. We don't want a Cabinet ill and in hospital. It would be tremendously destabilising in a situation that's already extremely unstable," she said. "That's a reason why being out in public unless everyone around you has masks on is dangerous. They have to be responsible."

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei placed his entire Cabinet and their staff in quarantine Thursday after one of his ministers tested positive.

Australian Associated Press