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Brazil is hiding its coronavirus figures

Published Jun 8th, 2020 7:31AM EDT
Coronavirus Stats
Image: Julio Cortez/AP/Shutterstock
  • Brazil’s coronavirus stats can no longer be trusted, as the country moved to hide its total number of COVID-19 cases.
  • President Jair Bolsonaro defended the decision not to show the cumulative COVID-19 caseload for the country, saying it doesn’t reflect “the moment the country is in.”
  • Brazil has the world’s second-largest coronavirus caseload at the moment, with more than 710,000 confirmed cases as of Monday morning.

The novel coronavirus is hardly ready to die, even though the hot season is coming in. In fact, the exact opposite is happening, the number of new cases is rising faster than ever. Countries in Europe, New Zealand, and US states are among the regions where local authorities have started relaxing the stricter social distancing measures that were imposed in the past few months. But the world experienced this massive health crisis differently. It all started in China, and then the COVID-19 epicenter moved to Europe and then the US. Then cases in Russia spiked, and it’s Brazil the new epicenter of the contagious disease right now. Brazil became has the second-largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world after the United States. But Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro might not be happy with those stats. Going forward, we’ll have a tough time trusting the figures coming out of the administration, as Brazil decided to hide crucial coronavirus data.

Brazil’s Health Ministry removed from public view the coronavirus data it had been collecting for the past few months. The ministry stopped giving the total count of confirmed cases, Reuters reported on Saturday. At the time, the country had registered more than 672,000 cases and almost 36,000 deaths, after logging more than 27,000 new coronavirus cases per day for five days straight. On Sunday, Brazil’s health authorities reported over 19,000 cases, a massive drop compared to previous days.

“The cumulative data … does not reflect the moment the country is in,” Bolsonaro said on Twitter. “Other actions are underway to improve the reporting of cases and confirmation of diagnoses.”

Journalists and members of Congress have criticized the move. Having an accurate picture of a country’s COVID-19 caseload is of utmost importance, not just for officials fighting the outbreak but also for citizens looking to protect themselves and scientists developing treatment and containment protocols. Up to date, accurate data is also essential for other countries dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, including Brazil’s neighbors.

Neither Bolsonaro nor his top health officials explained the changes made to the country’s official website that’s used to register the coronavirus stats. What’s clear is that Brazil isn’t happy reporting the total number of COVID-19 cases as the numbers soar. The nation’s official COVID-19 statistics website will now only show figures for the last 24 hours, including deaths, cases, and recoveries.

In a way, Bolsonaro is right, the cumulative data does not reflect the full picture for any country, not just Brazil. That’s because testing may still be a problem for many countries. Not to mention that a significant percentage of people who would test positive are asymptomatic, so they wouldn’t even seek a test. But they would still spread the disease.

Bolsonaro has often downplayed the severity of COVID-19, rejecting lockdown measures and calling for the economy to reopen. Two health ministers have left the post since the outbreak began after clashing with the president on the coronavirus response. Bolsonaro has also attacked local governors and mayors, accusing them they’ve been using the health crisis for political gain.

Bolsonaro isn’t the only leader who is having a hard time coping with the COVID-19 statistics. President Trump made a strange remark about coronavirus testing in mid-May when he said that the increased number of tests explain the increased number of cases. “We have more cases than anybody in the world,” he said at the time. “But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.” However, he made no attempt to obfuscate COVID-19 statistics.

Brazil is hardly the only country whose coronavirus stats will be questioned. China is suspected of having underreported its COVID-19 cases. A few days ago, we learned that Chinese health authorities conducted a massive testing campaign in Wuhan to prevent a second wave, and discovered around 300 asymptomatic patients who were not contagious, and who were not included in the official count. Russia also said it will not count asymptomatic patients. Iran’s figures were also questioned in the early days of the pandemic.

While Brazil may not report coronavirus stats accurately, other online services like the Coronavirus App still attempt to offer an accurate picture of the country’s COVID-19 caseload. Brazil has more than 710,000 confirmed coronavirus patients, and the death toll has passed 37,000 as of Monday morning. Brazil has shot past Italy when it comes to fatality, and will likely pass the UK, which has the world’s second-largest mortality figure after the US. However, Brazil was reporting more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths per day last week, with Britain reporting between 77 and 556 deaths per day during the same period.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.