BRASILIA (Reuters) - President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday criticized Brazil's health regulator Anvisa for proposing a vaccination requirement for travelers arriving in the country to help prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants.
"Anvisa wants to close the country's airspace now. Not again, damn it," Bolsonaro said at a business event in Brasilia.
Anvisa last month proposed adopting a 'vaccination passport' for entry into Brazil, but the government has not yet decided on the matter, which Bolsonaro has repeatedly attacked.
Vaccine skepticism from Bolsonaro, who says he has not gotten a COVID-19 shot, has done little to dampen Brazilians' eagerness to get immunized, with more than 85% of adults now fully vaccinated. However his discretion over federal policy may settle the debate on requiring vaccines for travelers.
The government had scheduled a meeting on Monday to debate the issue. It was canceled after the Supreme Court gave 48 hours for the executive branch to explain why the vaccination passport has not yet been adopted.
Last week, at the suggestion of Anvisa, the government suspended flights from six countries in southern Africa, where the new, fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus was identified.
Bolsonaro repeated his criticism of COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday, saying vaccinated people can still be infected, spread the coronavirus and die from COVID-19. He also minimized the new variant, saying there are "thousands of viruses" and the pandemic was ending.
While much is still not known about Omicron, unvaccinated people account for the vast majority of severe COVID-19 cases and deaths.
More than 600,000 Brazilians have died of COVID-19, the highest death toll outside of the United States, as critics have blasted Bolsonaro for playing down the severity of the virus, fighting lockdowns and slowing the acquisition of vaccines.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Berkrot)