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Live updates: Senate passes $2.2 trillion emergency relief package; Much of the world is under coronavirus lockdown

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro puts on a mask during a press conference on the new coronavirus in Brasilia on March 18. (Andre Borges/AP)

RIO DE JANEIRO — He said self-isolation was “mass confinement.” He called the novel coronavirus a “little cold.” He asked, if only people older than 60 are at risk, “why close the schools?”

This was Jair Bolsonaro, leader of Latin America’s largest country, calling on Brazilians to return to jobs, public spaces and commerce amid the coronavirus pandemic, contradicting not only his own health officials, but also the global consensus on how to see countries through the pandemic without a crippling loss of life.

It was a portrait of Bolsonaro isolated and unbound: Alone before the camera, attacking the media, undermining political opponents, indulging talking points he’s used since the crisis began even as the disturbing reality overtook his sanguine predictions.

“Most of the media has been countervailing,” he declared in a national address Tuesday. “They spread the sensation of dread, with their flagship the high number of victims in Italy. The perfect scenario to be used by the media to spread hysteria.”

“In my particular case,” the 65-year-old former army officer added, “with my history as an athlete, if I were infected by the virus, I wouldn’t need to worry. I wouldn’t feel anything or, if very affected, it would be like a little flu or little cold.”

Rather than calming panic and confusion, Bolsonaro’s pronouncements appear to be only fueling them. As confirmed cases and deaths mount — Brazil leads Latin America in both — fear is growing over whether the country’s institutions and leaders will rise to the challenge of a historic moment, with far less room for error than wealthier countries already in the full grip of coronavirus.