Judge orders Bolsonaro to resume publishing Brazil Covid-19 data

Move comes amid accusations government was trying to suppress the scale of the crisis

A Brazilian supreme court judge has ordered Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to resume publishing complete Covid-19 statistics after moves to suppress such information prompted accusations of authoritarian skulduggery designed to cover up the crisis.

The Brazilian government sparked outrage on Saturday by purging the health ministry website of historical data relating to the pandemic and announcing it would stop publishing the cumulative death toll or number of infections.

Officials claimed the changes would help “refine” official coronavirus data. But critics attacked what they called an illiberal ruse to conceal the severity of the pandemic’s impact in Brazil, where more than 37,000 lives have been lost.

Some drew parallels with the suppression of information in authoritarian countries such as North Korea and Venezuela while others recalled how Brazil’s own military regime had covered up a meningitis epidemic in the 1970s, with devastating consequences.

On Monday night, supreme court justice Alexandre de Moraes reportedly gave Bolsonaro’s administration a 48-hour deadline to begin releasing the full figures again each day, after a legal challenge from two opposition parties.

Randolfe Rodrigues, the opposition leader in the senate, celebrated the move. “The government will now be obliged to release the pandemic data, as before, without make-up or manipulation,” the senator tweeted.

On Monday, in the absence of comprehensive official statistics, a coalition of major Brazilian news outlets published their own tally of the country’s total number of Covid-19 deaths and infections: 37,312 and 710,887 respectively. Only the US has recorded more cases.

Bolsonaro continues to attack what he calls the media’s sensationalising of Covid-19, which he has called “a bit of a cold”.

Brazil graphic

At a televised cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Bolsonaro accused journalists of causing “panic” and seized on a comment from a World Health Organization official that the transmission of coronavirus by people with no symptoms could be “rare” as proof Brazil should be reopening.

“What we most want is to get back to normal and for the country to retake the path of prosperity,” Bolsonaro said.

One vocal ally, the citizenship minister, Onyx Lorenzoni, blamed media mendacity for exaggerating Brazil’s problems. “Whatever the government does, the extremist press always tries to create controversy or do down its work,” he told Bolsonaro.

“But I’m sure that with God in your heart and the truth that you always carry with you … you realise we will knock down these lies, one by one,” Lorenzoni added.

The latest row surrounding the president’s response to the pandemic comes as many key states, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, start partially reopening, contrary to the advice of many specialists.

On Saturday, Rio’s governor announced shopping centres and bars would be able to reopen – although those moves were temporarily halted by a court injunction on Monday.

Margareth Dalcolmo, a researcher from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a biomedical research institute, said it was too early to reopen. “I fear this premature reopening that we are seeing will cause an explosion of cases in two weeks – which is the time between infection and symptoms,” the pneumologist warned.

“Our governors and mayors must be open to a new shutdown.”

Contributors

Tom Phillips and Caio Barretto Briso in Rio de Janeiro

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