From left, Russia’s PM Mikhail Mishustin, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, Bolivia’s interim president Jeanine Añez, UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro
From left, Russia’s PM Mikhail Mishustin, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, Bolivia’s interim president Jeanine Añez, UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro © FT montage; Getty Images; Reuters; Bloomberg

After downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus threat for months, US president Donald Trump is the latest in a string of world leaders to have been diagnosed with the virus along with first lady Melania Trump.

His diagnosis barely a month before the November presidential election has cast further uncertainty over the final weeks of a campaign already taking place amid a pandemic, an economic crisis, protests over racial injustice and a controversial Supreme Court confirmation.

More than 1m people are known to have died after contracting coronavirus worldwide, and more than 34m have been infected. Leading figures in global politics have been among them. Here are some of the most prominent cases:

Boris Johnson


UK prime minister Boris Johnson tested positive for coronavirus in March.

The prime minister was later admitted to hospital and was moved to intensive care as his condition worsened. However, he was not put on a ventilator.

Early in the crisis, Mr Johnson’s government faced criticism for downplaying the risks of the virus and adopting a “herd immunity” strategy, rather than swiftly imposing restrictions as many other European countries had done.

Mr Johnson was back at work by late April, two weeks after he was discharged from hospital.

Other prominent British figures diagnosed with the virus include Prince Charles, heir to the throne, and health secretary Matt Hancock.

Michel Barnier


Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, tested positive for coronavirus in March, becoming the first senior Brussels policymaker to confirm that they had Covid-19.

Mr Barnier said at the time that he was “doing well and in good spirits” after testing positive for the virus. “I am following all the necessary instructions, as is my team,” he said, adding that he was “strictly confined at home”.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was tested as a precaution, as she had met Mr Barnier days before he tested positive.

By April, Mr Barnier wrote in a tweet that he was back at his office preparing for further Brexit negotiations with his UK counterpart.

Mikhail Mishustin


Russia’s prime minister Mikhail Mishustin contracted the virus in late April, forcing him to step down and hand over power to his deputy at the peak of coronavirus infections in Russia.

Mr Mishustin, 54, had only been appointed four months previously and had been overseeing Moscow's handling of the pandemic at the time of his positive test.

His sickness — alongside a handful of other cabinet members and president Vladimir Putin's spokesman — came as Russia’s virus cases grew at the fastest rate outside the US, undercutting Kremlin assurances that the situation was under control.

Jair Bolsonaro


Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro contracted coronavirus in July after months of flouting his own health ministry's advice on social distancing and masks.

As Covid-19 spread rapidly through Brazil between April and June, the rightwing leader attended campaign-style demonstrations, where his supporters rallied against economic shutdowns imposed by the nation’s state governors.

He maintained that the virus was “like the rain, it will hit you” inevitably. The 65-year-old was diagnosed after reporting typical symptoms, including fever.

He used the opportunity to endorse the use of controversial antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. However, his symptoms never deteriorated and after two weeks he was declared free of the virus.

Pranab Mukherjee


India’s former president, Pranab Mukherjee, died on August 31, at the age of 84, three weeks after testing positive for coronavirus.

A Congress-party stalwart who had previously served as finance minister and home minister, Mr Mukherjee was admitted to an Indian army hospital on August 10, after falling in his official residence.

In hospital, the former president tested positive for coronavirus, ahead of surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain, and tweeted confirmation of his infection, though it was unclear how he had contracted it.

He never recovered from the operation, however, and spent his final weeks on a ventilator in a coma. Indian media downplayed the coronavirus link to his death, describing it instead as the result of a lung infection, or a long illness.

Bruno Le Maire


French finance minister Bruno Le Maire fell sick with Covid-19 in mid-September and has since warned that “the virus is anything but harmless.”

France is in the middle of a resurgence of Covid-19, with cases rising quickly and hospital capacity coming under strain, and Mr Le Maire has used his experience to try to impress upon the population the dangers of getting infected.

Since recovering, the minister has said that it is a virus “that attacks your lungs, which gives you a feeling of tightness which is very painful, sometimes even scary”.

“I’m 50 years old, I’m in good physical shape . . . and even so this was violent.” He said he used to be able to run 25km to 30km a week but since contracting the virus was no longer able to.

Pierre Nkurunziza


Back in June, Burundi was shaken by the news that President Pierre Nkurunziza, who had denied that coronavirus posed much danger to the small central African country, had collapsed and died.

The official cause was a heart attack but diplomats, citing medical sources, hinted there was a high probability that the 55-year-old had died from side-effects of coronavirus. If true, he would be the first head of state killed by Covid-19, diplomats say.

A senior Burundian official dismissed such comments as “just rumours”. The longtime president — whose wife was sent to Kenya weeks before he died with suspected Covid-19 — had refused to take strong measures against the pandemic, even pressing ahead with elections to choose his successor.

Only days before his death, he had been attending a volleyball match before being rushed to hospital.

Amit Shah


India’s powerful home minister, Amit Shah — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most trusted political lieutenant — has been in and out of the hospital since testing positive for coronavirus on August 2.

He is one of at least 10 members of India’s council of ministers who have been infected. A clutch of state chief ministers, mostly from Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party, have also been infected.

Mr Shah, 55, widely considered the second most powerful man in India after the prime minister, initially spent almost two weeks in the privately owned Medanta Hospital on New Delhi’s outskirts. But three days after he was discharged, he was rushed to India’s top public hospital after complaining of fatigue, body aches and breathlessness.

Mr Shah has been in and out of hospital three times since his diagnosis. Authorities described his most recent visit as a “complete medical check-up prior to the start of parliament”. 

Jeanine Añez


Bolivia’s interim president Jeanine Añez tested positive for the virus in July as a wave of contagion swept through her cabinet.

At least seven ministers tested positive, including the finance, health and foreign ministers. Ms Añez, who was also a candidate for this year's presidential election at the time, showed no symptoms.

Bolivia has suffered more than 8,000 deaths, the world's third-highest per capita coronavirus death toll so far, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The health crisis forced Ms Añez to postpone the election from September to October. She has since withdrawn her candidacy.

Other Latin American leaders diagnosed with Covid-19 include Guatemala’s president Alejandro Giammattei and Honduras’s Juan Orlando Hernández.

Peter Dutton


Australia’s powerful home affairs minister Peter Dutton caught coronavirus soon after a trip to the US in March where he met US president Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka.

He recovered after about a month of isolation, telling local radio: “This is a much more serious disease than people realise.” 

The 49-year-old minister warned on Sydney’s 2GB radio that it was the disease’s strong comeback in the second week of symptomatic infection that caught him by surprise. 

“I had flu-like symptoms to start with, then felt on top of the world within four or five days, but it’s the second week . . . it sneaks back up on you,” he said. 

By Henry Foy in Moscow, Bryan Harris in São Paulo, Andres Schipani in Nairobi, Amy Kazmin in New Delhi, David Keohane in Paris, Joe Leahy in Hong Kong, Michael Stott and Adrienne Klasa in London

Are you under 30? 

We are exploring the impact of the pandemic on young people and want to hear from readers between 16 and 30. Tell us about your experiences from the past six months via a short survey.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article