Brazil accused of manipulating coronavirus toll

SAO PAULO (AFP) – Critics are accusing President Jair Bolsonaro of manipulating the figures showing the spiralling coronavirus death toll in Brazil, after his government first stopped reporting the total number of fatalities and infections, and then released conflicting data.

Even as infections soar in Brazil, the latest epicentre in the pandemic, the Health Ministry has made a series of unusual moves on how it presents the numbers on COVID-19.

The ministry had been the most widely used source for nationwide virus statistics, which paint a grim picture of its impact on Brazil: officially, 37,134 deaths, the third-highest toll in the world, after the United States and Britain; and 707,412 infections, the second-highest caseload, after the US.

Last week, the ministry postponed its daily tally of infections and deaths by around two and a half hours, to just before 10pm.

Critics accused the government of doing that to dodge negative coverage on Jornal Nacional, a popular evening news programme on Globo TV, Brazil’s biggest broadcaster. Bolsonaro himself appeared to confirm as much when asked about the delay.

“That’s the end of that story for Jornal Nacional,” the far-right president said.

Then the ministry stopped publishing the total number of deaths and infections, releasing only the figures for the past 24 hours for the country of 212 million people.

Things only got more muddled on Sunday, when the ministry released two different daily tolls, without initially explaining why or indicating which was correct.

It explained on Monday that the previous day’s figures had been corrected because some data supplied by state health officials included duplicates.

It also said it had adopted a new methodology, with a new website, where victims will be counted under the day they died, rather than the day that posthumous testing confirmed a COVID-19 diagnosis.

“There are cases where lab results are for deaths that occurred weeks ago,” it said in a statement.