Coronavirus-ravaged country forced into huge backflip over 'invisible' victims

Reuters

Brazil has restored detailed COVID-19 data to its official national website following controversy over the removal of cumulative totals and a ruling by a Supreme Court justice that the full set of information be reinstated.

The move came after days of mounting pressure from across the political spectrum and allegations the government was trying to mask the severity of the outbreak, now the world's second-largest.

The official website reverted to showing cumulative totals of deaths and infections – as well as breakdowns by state – as it had done until last week.

On Tuesday evening the latest daily numbers were uploaded to the site.

Una mujer que empuja un cochecito de bebé pasa junto a los trabajadores de servicios públicos de agua que desinfectarán la favela de Turano en un esfuerzo por frenar la propagación del nuevo coronavirus en Río de Janeiro, el martes 9 de junio de 2020. (AP Foto/Silvia Izquierdo)
Una mujer que empuja un cochecito de bebé pasa junto a los trabajadores de servicios públicos de agua que desinfectarán la favela de Turano en un esfuerzo por frenar la propagación del nuevo coronavirus en Río de Janeiro, el martes 9 de junio de 2020. (AP Foto/Silvia Izquierdo)

They showed 32,091 new infections of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours for a cumulative total of 739,503 cases, and 1,272 new deaths, bringing the toll to 38,406 dead, the third highest after the United States and the UK.

The badly-hit nation, dubbed South America's epicentre, recorded 1,185 deaths on Tuesday.

Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently sought to play down the severity of the coronavirus, dismissing it as a "little flu" and urging governors to reverse lockdown measures battering the country's economy.

He initially said cumulative data didn't "reflect the moment" the country was in when justifying his decision to remove the data on Friday.

Yet the move sparked widespread outrage.

"The authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical attempt to make those killed by Covid-19 invisible will not succeed. We and Brazilian society will not forget them, nor the tragedy that befalls the nation," said Alberto Beltrame, president of Brazil's national council of state health secretaries, in a statement.

"The manipulation of statistics is a manoeuvre of totalitarian regimes," Gilmar Mendes, a supreme court judge said on Twitter.

"The trick will not exempt responsibility for the eventual genocide."

Cemetery workers in protective clothing maneuver the coffin of 57-year-old Paulo Jose da Silva, who died from the new coronavirus, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, June 5, 2020. According to Monique dos Santos, her stepfather mocked the existence of the virus, didn't use a mask, didn't take care of himself, and wanted to shake hands with everybody. "He didn't believe in it and unfortunately he met this end. It's very sad, but that's the truth," she said. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Cemetery workers in protective clothing maneuver the coffin of 57-year-old Paulo Jose da Silva, who died from the new coronavirus, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, June 5, 2020. According to Monique dos Santos, her stepfather mocked the existence of the virus, didn't use a mask, didn't take care of himself, and wanted to shake hands with everybody. "He didn't believe in it and unfortunately he met this end. It's very sad, but that's the truth," she said. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Brazil's WHO threat

On Tuesday, mr Bolsonaro said the World Health Organization had lost credibility in its handling of the pandemic and that Brazil could pull out of the international body.

Sao Paulo's health department reported a record number of COVID-19 deaths for one day, just as the country's most populous state was starting to reopen its economy and relax some social distancing rules.

Despite the deaths, the mayor of Sao Paulo, the state capital, said shops could resume business for four hours a day as of Wednesday and malls could open again on Thursday pending agreement on conditions to protect shoppers.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second-largest city, also started to ease quarantine rules, including allowing soccer games without spectators. But a judge on Monday ordered the resumption of quarantine measures, allowing only essential services to operate due to the state's surging death toll of over 7,000 fatalities.

COVID-19 patients lie on beds in a field hospital built inside a gym in Santo Andre, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
COVID-19 patients lie on beds in a field hospital built inside a gym in Santo Andre, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Over the weekend, the health ministry abruptly removed cumulative totals of coronavirus cases and deaths. Last week, it also had delayed the release of the numbers until late in the evening, past the broadcast time of Brazil's main news program.

Health experts had feared that by not publishing accumulated totals and releasing only deaths that occurred in the past 24 hours, cases in which someone tested positive for the coronavirus days after their death could disappear from public view.

In Brazil, where testing has been haphazard, such cases are common.

Supreme Justice Alexandre de Moraes said in a statement on the court's website that the health ministry must "fully re-establish the daily dissemination of epidemiological data on the COVID-19 pandemic, including on the agency's website."

Moraes said the government's action had made it "impossible" to monitor the spread of the virus and implement appropriate control and prevention policies.

Acting Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, speaking at a cabinet meeting broadcast on TV, said there had never been any intention of manipulating the numbers.

- This article is from the Reuters news agency.