Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro suggested without evidence that Brazilians have a natural immunity for the coronavirus.
He said on Thursday Brazilians "never catch anything" — adding that they can swim in sewage "and nothing happens."
Bolsonaro has been criticized for not taking the coronavirus outbreak seriously, and ignored doctors' advice to self-isolate even after officials close to him tested positive. At least 77 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil so far.
Brazil's president has suggested without evidence that Brazilians may have a natural immunity to the coronavirus.
President Jair Bolsonaro said Thursday he didn't think the outbreak would get as bad in the country as it has in the US, citing anecdotal evidence on the health of Brazilians.
"I don't think it will reach that point. Especially because Brazilians have to be studied," Bolsonaro said, according to TV Globo. "They don't get anything. You see the guy jumping into the sewer there, going out, diving, right? And nothing happens to him."
"I think a lot of people have already been infected in Brazil, a few weeks or months ago, and already have the antibodies that help not to proliferate it."
As of Thursday, Brazilian health officials said that there were more than 2,900 cases in the country, and 77 deaths — an almost two-fold jump from 46 deaths the day before.
Bolsonaro has been criticized by many within Brazil for downplaying the crisis. In another speech on Tuesday, he urged his country's mayors and governors to relax coronavirus restrictions, so that the economy could "get back to normal."
He also ignored medical advice and broke self-isolation last week to greet thousands of supporters.
There were fears at one point that Bolsonaro had caught COVID-19 himself, when 22 officials he traveled to the US recently tested positive. However, Bolsonaro has said twice that he has tested negative for the virus.
Right-wing congressman Kim Kataguiri, who previously supported Bolsonaro, told The Guardian that Bolsonaro's response to the coronavirus has been "irresponsible and populist."
"It's pretty clear he is primarily interested in his re-election and very little about actually fighting coronavirus," Kataguiri said.
Davi Alcolumbre, the head of Brazil's Senate, said the country needs "serious, responsible leadership" in times like this.
"We consider grave the position expressed by the president today, on national networks, of attacking Covid-19 containment measures," he said after the president's speech on Tuesday, according to the BBC.
Alcolumbre added: "The position runs against the actions adopted by other countries and suggested by the World Health Organization."
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