The coronavirus pandemic continued to ravage Latin America this week, even hitting hard at some of the region’s political elite.
Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Áñez, and Venezuela’s number two leader, Diosdado Cabello, announced Thursday that they have been infected with the new coronavirus, just days after Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsnaro also tested positive.
Three Cabinet ministers in the Áñez’s administration in Bolivia have also tested positive for the virus, including Health Minister Eidy Roca and Presidency Minister Yerko Nuñez, who is hospitalised.
The infections in Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia, which is seeing a spike in cases, come after Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández tested positive in June and was briefly hospitalised.
Announcing her test on Thursday, Áñez said in a video on Twitter that she would remain in quarantine for 14 days before taking another test.
The conservative politician assumed the interim presidency in November after socialist former leader Evo Morales resigned and fled the country following three weeks of unrest over his controversial re-election.
Bolivia is scheduled to hold a presidential election September 6. Áñez is running third in opinion polls. Former economy minister Luis Arce, representing Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, leads the polls, with ex-president Carlos Mesa in second.
Bolivia, a country of 11 million, has recorded almost 43,000 coronavirus infections and more than 1,500 deaths. Officials say the Andean country is seeing a rebound in the number of new cases amid reports that hospitals are being overwhelmed in some regions. In the highland city of Cochabamba, scenes have emerged of bodies lying in the streets and coffins waiting for days in homes to be taken away.
In Venezuela, Socialist party chief Diosdado Cabello revealed that he had tested positive for Covid-19, making him the highest-ranking leader in the troubled nation thus far to come down with the virus.
Cabello is considered the second-most powerful person in Venezuela after President Nicolás Maduro and made the announcement on Twitter, stating that he is isolated, getting treatment and will overcome the illness. “We will win!” he wrote in conclusion.
Venezuela is considered one of the world’s least prepared countries to confront the pandemic. Hospitals are routinely short on basic supplies like water, electricity and medicine.
However, the nation has registered considerably fewer Covid-19 cases than others in the region, but the number of infections has grown in recent weeks. As of Wednesday, the government had reported 8,010 confirmed cases and 75 deaths. Some experts have cast double over those numbers.
The 65-year-old appeared in his weekly Facebook Live post on Thursday from his official residence. He appeared to be in good shape and was not accompanied, as is often the case, by ministers or senior officials, and the usual sign language interpreter was not present.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the far-right president has dismissed the seriousness of the epidemic and criticised containment measures ordered by governors in Brazilian states.
Bolsonaro said that after feeling unwell at the end of last week, he had started taking one hydroxychloroquine tablet every day.
The drug, originally tested to fight malaria, has been pushed as a treatment for Covid-19 in many countries -- but its effectiveness has not been formally proven and the issue is deeply dividing the global scientific community.
"I'm saying this very clearly," Bolsonaro said in his video. "I took [hydroxychloroquine] and it worked, and I'm fine, thank God. And let those who criticise it at least offer an alternative."
Brazil is currently the second country hardest-hit country in the world by the pandemic, behind the United States. The death toll on Thursday was 69,184, with an increase of 1,224 in the previous 24 hours. At least 1.77 million people have tested positive for Covid-19.
President Alberto Fernández said Tuesday that he had sent a letter to his Brazilian counterpart wishing him a speedy recovery.
"The danger of this pandemic is manifested in the levels of contagion. This virus does not distinguish between its rulers and the ruled. We are all threatened and that is why extreme care must be taken," he wrote.
In a closing flourish, the Peronist leader closed out the letter with the word "sinceramente" – a common enough closing, though also notable as being the title of Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's bestselling memoir. Bolsonaro is a sharp critic of Argentina's former leader.