Bolsonaro has been accused of stoking anti-vaccine sentiment and says he does not need to get vaccinated because he recovered from a mild case of covid-19 last year.
While he devoted only a small part of his address to the pandemic, his presence at the assembly spoke volumes on it: As he has not been fully immunized, Bolsonaro appears to have broken U.N. rules that asked for all those who entered the General Assembly Hall to be fully vaccinated under an “honor system.”
“We support vaccination efforts. However, my administration has not supported a vaccine or health passport or any other vaccine-related obligations,” Bolsonaro said during his appearance.
The Brazilian leader did not refer to his vaccination status during his speech but said that almost 90 percent of his country’s adult population had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Bolsonaro wore a mask while walking to the podium, before taking it off to speak.
Bolsonaro has not kept a low profile since arriving in New York on Monday for the General Assembly.
In a briefing Monday, he appeared to turn down an offer from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to receive a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Johnson, who was hospitalized with covid in 2020, said he has had two doses of the vaccine.
Bolsonaro laughed and answered: “Not yet.”
Later, Bloomberg News reported that a member of Bolsonaro’s delegation, who hadn’t been in contact with the president, tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in New York and was placed in isolation. (A U.N. official told The Washington Post it had no update on the status of the delegate.)
Bolsonaro was also pictured eating pizza on the streets of New York on Sunday night with members of his delegation — and observers speculated that he was avoiding indoor restaurants, where New York’s vaccine mandate applies.
“Luxury dining in NYC,” tweeted Luiz Ramos, a Brazilian minister who shared the picture.
The Brazilian leader opened the General Debate on Tuesday, speaking ahead of the U.S. president, per U.N. tradition. Anyone who enters the General Assembly Hall at U.N. headquarters tacitly attests that they are vaccinated under rules put in place to prevent the assembly from turning into a superspreader event.
But the United Nations has said it doesn’t have the power to enforce the “honor system” mandate. It is not clear whether there will be any repercussions for Bolsonaro for apparently breaking the rule.
Bolsonaro also met with U.N. Secretary General António Guterres on Tuesday.
During a news conference Monday from Queens, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said: “We need to send a message to all the world leaders, including most notably Bolsonaro, from Brazil, that if you intend to come here, you need to be vaccinated. If you don’t want to be vaccinated, don’t bother coming, because everyone should be safe together.”
Unlike Biden, Bolsonaro did not open his speech by talking about the pandemic, but instead focused on what he saw as his political and economic revitalization of Brazil. “I come here to portray a different Brazil vis-à-vis what is portrayed in newspapers and on television,” he said.
The Brazilian leader said that his government supported vaccinations but also that it supported “early treatment” for covid-19, with Bolsonaro suggesting he had received this treatment on the advice of his doctors. He suggested his attitude would be proven right, eventually.
“History and science will be wise enough to hold everyone accountable,” he told the General Assembly.
There have been over 21 million cases of covid-19 in Brazil and over 590,000 deaths, according to tracking from The Washington Post.