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Bolsonaro says virus threat is "overstated"

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Miami (AFP)

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday minimized the threat of the new coronavirus -- which has killed nearly 4,000 people in more than 60 countries and tanked global financial markets -- saying its destructive power has been "overstated."

The fall of world markets "basically has to do with the price of oil, which sank 30 percent, and with the coronavirus issue too," said the ultra-right wing president to a crowd of about 200 Brazilian supporters in Miami, where he is visiting in an effort to drum up foreign investment.

"In my opinion, that virus's destructive power is overstated. Maybe it is even potentially being exaggerated for political reasons," Bolsonaro said.

The Sao Paulo exchange plummeted more than 12 percent Monday, its biggest fall since 1998, and shares of Brazilian state-controlled oil giant Petrobras dropped more than 31 percent, as world investors panicked in the face of the spread of the new coronavirus and plunging oil prices.

Bolsonaro is traveling around Florida to boost investor confidence in Latin America's biggest economy.

While visiting the state, Bolsonaro met with US President Donald Trump at the latter's Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, north of Miami.

Trump has faced criticism for his own efforts to downplay the coronavirus's threat by repeatedly contradicting government public health experts.

Trump -- flanked by Bolsonaro -- said on Saturday he was "not concerned at all" about the virus and that he planned to continue his political rallies as normal even as a flood of other public events were canceled.

The head of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Monday that "the threat of a pandemic has become very real" as cases rise around the globe, including in Brazil.

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