RIO DE JANEIRO – President Jair Bolsonaro resumed his normal routine on Monday after self-isolating for three weeks with what appears to have been a comparatively mild bout of coronavirus as Brazil saw the number of cases creep closer to 2.5 million and its COVID-19 death toll approach 88,000.
Fatalities climbed by 614 over the last 24 hours and 23,284 new infections were detected, the health ministry said.
Both cases and deaths were down substantially over the weekend after a week where fatalities averaged more than 1,000 a day and infections grew at a rate of 45,000-plus every 24 hours.
But those seeming declines may simply reflect a reduction in staffing on weekends in the agencies that maintain the tallies, as the health ministry has acknowledged in the past.
Brazil, a nation of 210 million, trails only the United States in terms of the impact it has felt from the coronavirus pandemic and is by far the hardest-hit country in Latin America.
More than 1.6 million Brazilians infected with COVID-19 have recovered.
Bolsonaro, the country’s most famous coronavirus patient, returned to his normal schedule after spending 20 days under quarantine at his official residence.
But even while self-isolating, the right-wing president would step out the door to greet supporters and was spotted one day last week chatting unmasked with maintenance workers during a motorcycle ride on the grounds of the residence.
At the same time, having spent months feuding with state governors and mayors about the restrictions they imposed to slow the spread of the virus, which he once dismissed as a “measly flu,” Bolsonaro’s tone and demeanor was markedly less combative and more conciliatory.
The president was even careful to observe social distancing with the supporters gathered outside Planalto Palace to catch a glimpse of their leader.
As recently as a month ago, Bolsonaro would wade into crowds, embracing people and posing for selfies.
“I am cured, but let’s avoid contact,” he said on Monday, yet a photographer captured an image of the president with his mask off during the encounter with supporters.
Bolsonaro is scheduled to depart Brasilia on Thursday for working visits to the northeastern states of Bahia and Piaui and to Rio Grande do Sul in the south.