During his remarks, which broadcast live on YouTube and Facebook, Governor Luis Miguel Barbosa posed a question, asking reporters which people were infected at the moment.
“The majority are wealthy people, you know,” he said, answering his own question. “If you’re rich you’re at risk, but if you’re poor, no, well us poor, we are immune.”
There is no scientific evidence to suggest the virus effects people differently due to economic status. His remarks sparked an uproar on social media, with many questioning why a government official would spread information that has no basis in fact.
Barbosa noted that many of those who contracted the virus had recently traveled, suggesting a link between wealth and travel. Of Mexico’s 475 confirmed cases of the virus so far, about 75 percent were connected to international travel according to federal health statistics. As of Thursday afternoon, 44 people had tested positive for the virus in Puebla.
Asked about the remarks at a Thursday press conference, Barbosa refused to comment.
As the pandemic spread across the world, as recently as last week López Obrador was not practicing social distancing and downplaying the virus’ threat, telling families to live as they normally would. He has changed his tone over the last few days, as Mexico’s case count has more than doubled since March 20, urging people to be safe and stay home.
Mexico’s federal government has also ramped up prevention measures recently. Beginning what it calls Phase 2 of its crisis response, the government has shuttered schools, closed non-essential federal offices, and encouraged people to say home and socially distance. A nightly press conference by the Ministry of Health updates the public on the status of the outbreak.
On Thursday morning, López Obrador told reporters the worst of the outbreak would be over by April 19. But Deputy Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell Ramírez l told reporters shortly afterward that there is a strong risk that the number of cases will exponentially rise, forcing force the government to take stronger preventative measures.
Governor Barbosa is a member of López Obrador’s MORENA political party. His comments are also at odds with preventative measures recently put in place in Puebla—measures that are not only aimed at the wealthy: On March 23, Puebla’s government temporarily suspended all activities at theatres, cinemas, gyms, bars, zoos, among other places. The local government has also launched an online hygiene campaign including videos in Nahuatl, an indigenous language spoken by more than a million people nationwide.