RIO DE JANEIRO/KUWAIT: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has consistently downplayed the risks of coronavirus, announced Tuesday he has tested positive, as the United States – the nation hardest hit by the pandemic – formally launched its withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO). The UN health agency meanwhile acknowledged that there was “emerging evidence” of airborne transmission of COVID-19, which has infected nearly 11.7 million people around the globe and caused more than 539,000 deaths.

Kuwait’s health ministry yesterday announced 762 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total to 52,007 cases. Deaths reached 379 with the addition of two fatalities. Official spokesperson of the ministry Dr Abdullah Al-Sanad said in a press statement that the 762 infections included 501 Kuwaitis and 261 non-Kuwaitis. Earlier, the health ministry announced the recovery of 593 people from the coronavirus, bringing the tally to 42,108 recoveries.

BRASILIA: A screen grab shows Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro putting a facemask on as he prepares to speak with journalists at Planalto Palace on Tuesday. – AFP

Bolsonaro, who said he had experienced only mild symptoms, has ignored containment measures such as social distancing, despite Brazil being the second-worst hit country, with more than 66,000 dead. The far-right leader, who at 65 is in the highest-risk age category, insisted he was feeling “perfectly well” and took off his face mask during a TV interview announcing his test results. He repeated his mantra that the “collateral effects” of the virus should not be worse than the illness itself.

In Washington, a senior US official said the United States had informed UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres of its intention to leave the WHO, effective July 6, 2021. President Donald Trump has been critical of the WHO’s pandemic response, accusing it of bias toward China and ignoring early signs of human-to-human transmission of the deadly virus.

The US is the largest financial contributor to the WHO – which leads the fight on global maladies from polio and measles to mental health – providing $400 million annually. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Tuesday he would immediately reverse the decision and keep the US in the WHO if he defeats Trump in November.

Experts are still struggling to understand COVID-19, and the WHO said it was open to new research after scientists lobbied for it to stress that the virus can spread through the air farther and for longer than initially believed. WHO said it would put out a new scientific brief within days, after an international group of scientists concluded the virus could travel far beyond two meters.