SAO PAULO – Brazil on Saturday removed data from its COVID-19 epidemic in public opinion as President Jair Bolsonaro defended delays and changes in the official records of the world’s second-largest coronavirus outbreak.
The Brazilian Ministry of Health has removed the data from a website that documented the epidemic over time and by state and municipality. The ministry also stopped giving a total number of confirmed cases, which shot more than 672,000 – more than anywhere outside the United States – or a total death toll that passed Italy this week, nearly 36,000 by Saturday.
“The cumulative data … do not reflect the moment the country is located,” Bolsonaro said on Twitter, citing a ministry note. “Other actions are underway to improve case reporting and diagnosis confirmation.”
Bolsonaro has mitigated the dangers of the pandemic, replacing medical experts from the Department of Health with military officials, and pleading against state closings to fight the virus, hampering the country’s public health response.
Neither Bolsonaro nor the Ministry gave any reason to delete most of the data on the covid.saude.gov.br website, which had been an important public resource for tracking the pandemic. The page was removed on Friday and reloaded on Saturday with a new layout and only a fraction of the data, with only deaths, cases and recoveries in the past 24 hours.
Late on Saturday, since the Friday update, 27,075 reported new confirmed infections and 904 related deaths.
The government has criticized this week for pushing back the publication of its daily census, which was previously available around 5 p.m. but released around 10pm the past few days
“Transparency of information is a powerful tool to fight the epidemic,” said Paulo Jeronimo de Sousa, head of the Brazilian press association, in a note accusing the government of “trying to silence the press at this late hour.” .
Asked by journalists on Friday about the delayed release, Bolsonaro sewed the country’s most watched news program, Jornal Nacional, which starts at 8:30 PM.
“There goes the story for Jornal Nacional,” he quipped, adding that the show “likes to say Brazil has the record for deaths.”
Brazil reported more new cases and deaths from COVID-19 on four consecutive days than any other country.
Bolsonaro tweeted on Saturday that a later daily update would “prevent awareness and inconsistencies.”