Brazil driving in the dark, say experts after health ministry withholds data release

Brazil driving in the dark

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro was on Monday criticised after his government decided to stop reporting the cumulative tally of the coronavirus deaths and infections in the country, Reuters reported.

On June 5, Brazil’s health ministry took down the website where it had been reporting the coronavirus figures, according to The New York Times. However, on Saturday the website was back online, but omitted the crucial data of how many people were infected or killed because of the virus.

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The government removed data from the website after it released two contradictory sets of numbers. However, Brazil reported 679 new deaths and 15,654 additional confirmed cases on Monday. These figures issued on Monday were the same as those reported earlier by the National Council of Health Secretaries, which represents local health officials. They compiled a comprehensive data and according to their tally, Brazil’s toll now stands at 37,134, the highest after the United States and Britain. There were 7,07,412 confirmed cases as of Monday, highest anywhere in the world but the US.

In a statement issued, the health ministry said its weekend discrepancies stemmed due to mistakes in the numbers from two states that were later corrected. It added that the lower daily death toll of 525 was the correct one.

Lawmakers and health experts attacked the government’s decision to withhold comprehensive statistics as the situation continued to worsen. “By changing the numbers, the Ministry of Health covers the sun with a sieve,” Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the lower house of the country’s parliament, according to the news agency. “The credibility of the statistics needs to be urgently recovered. A ministry that manipulates numbers creates a parallel world in order not to face the reality of the facts.

Gilmar Mendes, a Supreme Court justice, called the government’s “manipulation of statistics a tactic of totalitarian regimes”, adding that the “trick will not absolve the government from an eventual genocide.” Meanwhile, the World Health Organization stressed the importance of “consistent and transparent” communication from Brazil.

Carlos Machado, head of research at the National School of Public Health, said the lack of dependable data is dangerous. “Not having updated and reliable data during a pandemic of this proportion is like driving in the dark,” he told Reuters. “While we do not have a vaccine, information is the best weapon we have at our disposal.”

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Confusion over the figures has led a group of Brazil’s largest media outlets to launch their own data tracking system, according to a report in newspaper. Bolsonaro has also been criticised for his administration’s repeated practice of playing down the danger of the virus, regardless of what his own health ministers may say. In April, Bolsonaro had sacked Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, as infighting within the government over the handling of the coronavirus crisis continued.

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