Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Sunday he has tested positive for COVID-19, but that his symptoms were mild and he felt “optimistic”.
“I regret to inform you that I am infected with COVID-19. The symptoms are mild, but I am already undergoing medical treatment,” he said in a Twitter post.
“As always, I am optimistic. We will come through this together,” he said.
Lopez Obrador, 67, has been criticised for his handling of Mexico’s coronavirus outbreak, including for taking too long to impose a lockdown at the start of the pandemic and for continuing to hold rallies and greet supporters with handshakes and hugs. He has also rarely been seen wearing a mask.
In March last year, asked how he was protecting Mexico, Lopez Obrador removed two religious amulets from his wallet and proudly showed them off.
“The protective shield is the ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’,” the president said, reading off the inscription on the amulet, “Stop, enemy, for the Heart of Jesus is with me.”
Then in July, he said: “I’ll put on a mask. You know when? When there’s no corruption”.
The Mexican president has also resisted locking down the economy, noting the devastating effect it would have on so many people who live day to day.
Mexico is in the grip of a second wave of the pandemic and has the world’s fourth-highest toll after the United States, Brazil and India. The capital, Mexico City, has been in a state of maximum alert since mid-December, with more than 90 percent of hospital beds full due to soaring cases.
“(The diagnosis) comes at a time in Mexico when there are serious problems in dealing with the pandemic,” said Al Jazeera’s John Holman, who is in Mexico City. “It’s a critical situation.”
The health ministry on Sunday reported 10,872 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 530 fatalities, bringing its totals to 1,763,219 infections and 149,614 deaths.
The real number of infected people and deaths is likely to be significantly higher than the official count, officials say.
In November, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, urged Mexico’s leaders to be more serious about the coronavirus and set an example for its citizens, saying that “Mexico is in bad shape” with the pandemic.
He did not name Lopez Obrador, but said: “We would like to ask Mexico to be very serious.”
“We have said it in general, wearing a mask is important, hygiene is important and physical distancing is important and we expect leaders to be examples,” he added.
As the pandemic grew, Lopez Obrador did begin limiting attendance to his events and maintaining his distance from supporters. But he continued his travels to different parts of the country and on Friday visited the northern state of San Luis Potosi.
Jose Luis Alomia Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, told reporters on Sunday that Lopez Obrador had a “light” case of COVID-19 and was “isolating at home”.
“A team of medical specialists is attending to the health of the president,” he added.
Lopez Obrador said on Twitter that his Interior Minister Interior Minister Olga Sanchez would run his regular morning news conference in his absence.
He also said that he would take part in a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday about the possibility of Mexico acquiring the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
Mexico began a mass immunisation programme on December 24 using the coronavirus vaccine developed by US drugs giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
It has also authorised the shot developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
As of Sunday night, Mexico had given nearly 630,000 doses of vaccine.
Lopez Obrador has said that he would wait until March when people over the age of 65 are scheduled to be immunised.