Brazil’s government has stopped publishing a running total of coronavirus deaths and infections in an extraordinary move that critics have called an attempt to hide the true toll of the disease in Latin America’s largest nation.
The Saturday move came after months of criticism from experts saying Brazil’s statistics are woefully deficient, and in some cases manipulated, so it may never be possible to gain a real understanding of the depth of the pandemic in the country.
Brazil’s last official numbers showed it had recorded more than 34,000 deaths related to the coronavirus, the third-highest number in the world, just ahead of Italy. It reported nearly 615,000 infections, putting it at the second highest, behind the United States. Brazil, with about 210 million people, is the globe’s seventh most populous nation.
On Friday, the federal health ministry took down a website that had shown daily, weekly and monthly figures on infections and deaths in Brazilian states. On Saturday, the site returned but the total numbers of infections for states and the nation were no longer there. The site now shows only the numbers for the previous 24 hours.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted on Saturday that disease totals are “not representative” of the country’s current situation.
A Bolsonaro ally, O Globo newspaper, reported that some states providing figures to the health ministry had sent falsified data, implying that they were exaggerating the toll.
Carlos Wizard, a businessman expected to assume a high-level post in the health ministry, said the federal government would be conducting a review intended to determine a “more accurate”‘ toll.
“The number we have today is fanciful or manipulated,” Wizard said.
A council of state health secretaries said it would fight the changes by Bolsonaro, who has dismissed the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic and tried to thwart attempts to impose quarantines, curfews and social distancing, arguing those steps are causing more damage to the economy than the pandemic.
“The authoritarian, insensitive, inhumane and unethical attempt to make the COVID-19 deaths invisible will not prosper,” the health secretaries’ council said on Saturday.
While precise counts of cases and deaths are difficult for governments worldwide, health researchers have been saying for weeks that a series of serious irregularities with Brazilian government statistics was making it impossible to get a handle on an exploding situation.