On 6 June, Brazil’s federal public prosecutor’s office (MPF) gave the federal health ministry, led by interim minister Eduardo Pazuello, 72 hours to explain the reasons behind the changes made to the presentation and reporting of national figures on the coronavirus (Covid-19).
Over 5-6 June, the government led by President Jair Bolsonaro made changes to its coronavirus data portal and the way that new coronavirus cases and deaths are reported. It now reports new daily cases and fatalities only, no longer giving cumulative numbers. This change in methodology has prompted widespread concerns that the government is seeking to manipulate the data and conceal the true extent of the coronavirus outbreak in Brazil, which has the second highest number of cases and third highest number of deaths in the world.
- Concerns had already been growing over the reliability and transparency of the federal government’s Covid-19 data when, on 5 June, the government published only figures for new daily cases and fatalities. On 6 June, the federal health ministry’s coronavirus portal went down for several hours. The re-instated website merely presents the number of deaths and infections counted nationally in the previous 24 hours. Previously, the portal had presented cumulative numbers and a breakdown of Covid-19 data at state-level, with graphs and maps.
- Bolsonaro, who has also mooted the possibility of Brazil exiting the World Health Organisation (WHO), justified these changes in a series of tweets on 6 June. “The presentation of 24-hour data allows for keeping track of the reality of the country at this point in time and for defining appropriate strategies”, he wrote. “Accumulating the data, on top of not indicating that the majority is no longer ill, does not portray the country at this point in time” .
- These changes to the data reporting methodology have been slammed across the board in Brazil, for both jeopardising an informed response to the pandemic and for smacking of data manipulation and authoritarianism.
- “Failure to inform correctly means the state could be more harmful than the disease”, former health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta (2019-2020) said on 6 June, qualifying the situation as a “tragedy”. Gilmar Mendes, a supreme court (STF) justice, tweeted that “The manipulation of statistics is a ploy of totalitarian regimes.”
- Raising further concerns, the government revised data after publishing it yesterday (7 June). After first announcing 1,382 deaths and 12,581 new cases, it corrected these figures to 525 and 18,912.
- In response to the federal government’s change in methodology, the council for state health secretariats (Conass) has launched its own Covid-19 data portal. According to Conass, as of yesterday Brazil had a cumulative 680,456 confirmed Covid-19 cases, of which 36,151 deaths.
- Lawmakers have also mobilised to try and guarantee public access to transparent data. Opposition parties have filed a motion with the STF, a committee in the federal chamber of deputies has requested that congress receive consolidated Covid-19 data directly, and Rodrigo Maia, the president of the chamber of deputies, personally contacted a government minister to request the transparent release of data.
The federal health ministry announced last night that it will shortly be launching a “new model” of Covid-19 data presentation, where cases and fatalities will be presented by “date of occurrence” rather than on the date they are registered.