In Depth

How Brazil was dragged towards coronavirus chaos

South American nation stops reporting Covid-19 death toll and wipes official data

Brazil has wiped an official site detailing its Covid-19 data and stopped releasing total numbers of cases and deaths.

The Latin American country currently has the world’s second-highest number of cases and the third-highest number of deaths, according to latest figures, having recently overtaken hard-hit Italy.

On Friday night, a health ministry site was taken offline, and returned on Saturday with daily numbers available, but without the cumulative number of deaths and confirmed cases.

Health ministry insiders told local media the move was ordered by President Jair Bolsonaro himself, said The Guardian, raising concerns about his continual neglect of the spiralling situation.

Federal prosecutors announced an investigation on Saturday, giving the interim health minister 72 hours to explain the move. President Bolsonaro, who has flouted isolation measures and called the coronavirus a “little flu”, tweeted that the data was “adapted” because it did not “portray the moment the country is in”.

How is coronavirus affecting Brazil?

As of 9 June, more than 37,000 people are thought to have died in Brazil after being infected with Covid-19. The country has recorded more than 707,000 cases, the first of which was confirmed on 26 February.

This makes Brazil the country with the highest rate of victims and confirmed cases in Latin America. It has more than double those of Peru, in a distant second place.

The Daily Mirror, however, says it is believed some victims may not feature in the figures because they were not tested after they died.

The Sun notes that upwards of 13 million people in Brazil live in crowded “favelas”, or shanty towns, where social distancing is nearly impossible and basic sanitation is lacking, meaning the virus may be nowhere near its peak in the country yet.

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Is this Jair Bolsonaro’s fault?

President Jair Bolsonaro has come in for much criticism for his attitude towards fighting the virus.

The Guardian reported earlier in April that Bolsonaro was “one of just four world leaders still downplaying the threat of coronavirus to public health, alongside the authoritarian presidents of Nicaragua, Belarus and Turkmenistan”.

Over Easter, the paper reports, he “sniffed at his own health ministry’s distancing recommendations” by “going out for doughnuts, glad-handing fans” and proclaiming: “No one will hinder my right to come and go.” 

Bolsonaro’s actions over the course of the crisis have caused his popularity ratings to drop considerably. A survey taken in early April by Datafolha showed 39% of those asked felt his handling of the coronavirus issue had been “bad” or “awful”, while just 33% ranked his response as “good” or “great”, says Reuters.

And in recent months his controversial behaviour has continued to shock the nation. Also in April, he sacked his popular health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who had been pushing for a wider adoption of social distancing measures. 

The Sun adds that Bolsonaro told TV stations that month that “with my athletic history, if I were infected with the virus, I would have no reason to worry. I would feel nothing, or it would be at most just a little flu or a little cold,” he added.

“Yes, we should return to normality. Some states and local authorities need to abandon the scorched-earth policy, blocking transport, closing businesses and mass confinement.”

Bolsonaro, much like President Donald Trump in the US, has clashed with state governors across the country who have imposed lockdowns, denouncing the measures as “dictatorial” and even attending a pro-dictatorship, anti-lockdown rally on Monday – during which “he coughed on occasion” and wore neither a mask nor gloves, says the BBC.

Rodrigo Maia, the speaker of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies and a critic of Bolsonaro, responded to the anti-lockdown sentiment in a tweet, saying: “The whole world is united against coronavirus, but in Brazil we have to fight the coronavirus and the virus of authoritarianism.”

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