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Brazil stops reporting coronavirus death toll, sparking outcry

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Brazil has taken the extraordinary step of stopping coronavirus death reporting, in move critics claim is an attempt to hide the true toll of the disease in Latin America’s largest nation.

Brazil has taken the extraordinary step of stopping coronavirus death reporting, in move critics claim is an attempt to hide the true toll of the disease in Latin America's largest nation.

The move on Saturday came after months of criticism from experts that Brazil's statistics are woefully deficient, and in some cases manipulated, so it may never be possible to understand the depth of the pandemic in the country.

Brazil's last official numbers showed it had recorded over 34,000 deaths related to the coronavirus, the third-highest number in the world, just ahead of Italy.

People wearing protective masks observe to the graves with the remains of their relatives during a mass burial of coronavirus  pandemic victims at the Parque Taruma cemetery

It reported nearly 615,000 infections, putting it second, behind the United States. Brazil, with about 210 million people, is the globe's seventh most populous nation.

On Friday, the federal Health Ministry took down a website that had showed daily, weekly and monthly figures on infections and deaths in Brazilian states.

The site returned on Saturday but the cumulative numbers of infections for states and the nation were no longer there.

The site now shows only the numbers for the previous 24 hours.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted on Saturday that disease totals are "not representative" of the country's current situation.

Public prosecutors announced an investigation into the Health Ministry's justification for the change.

A Bolsonaro ally contended to the newspaper O Globo that at least some states had sent falsified data to the Health Ministry, implying that they were exaggerating the toll.

Carlos Wizard, a businessman expected to assume a high-level post in the Health Ministry, said the federal government would conduct a review to determine a "more accurate"' toll.

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"The number we have today is fanciful or manipulated," Wizard said.

A council of state health secretaries said it would fight the changes by Bolsonaro, who has dismissed the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic and tried to thwart attempts to impose quarantines, curfews and social distancing, arguing those steps are causing more damage to the economy than the illness.

"The authoritarian, insensitive, inhumane and unethical attempt to make the COVID-19 deaths invisible will not prosper," the health secretaries council said Saturday.

Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes said Saturday on Twitter that "manipulating statistics is a manoeuvre of totalitarian regimes."

An aerial view of open graves amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at Vila Formosa Cemetery on May 18, 2020 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The Vila Formosa Cemetery is the largest in Latin America and compared to data from a year ago, the cemetery had an increase of 50 per cent in number of burialsCemetery workers place crosses over a common grave after burying five people at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery amid the new coronavirus pandemic in Manaus, Brazil

João Gabbardo, the Health Ministry's former No. 2, told television channel GloboNews that reviewing the death toll "shows the management inexperience in the Health Ministry. There's no sense to that review. When countries do reviews, the number increases."

While precise counts of cases and deaths are difficult for governments worldwide, health researchers have been saying for weeks that irregularities with Brazilian statistics were making it impossible to get a handle on an exploding situation.

Coronavirus-related cases and deaths across Latin America are rising faster than anywhere in the world.

And in the worst-hit countries, they show no signs of slowing down. The region has recorded nearly 1.2 million cases and more than 60,000 deaths.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro gestures as he welcomes leaders of the BRICS emerging economies at the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, in 2019Coronavirus: Brazil records highest daily rise in deaths

"We are especially worried about Central and South America, where many countries are witnessing accelerating epidemics," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO does not believe either Central or South America have reached peak transmission, meaning the number of people getting sick and dying might continue to rise.

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Health officials warn countries against reopening their economies too soon, even as nations prepare to reopen or have already done so.

With agencies

Source: 9News

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