Officials said the changes would help “refine” official coronavirus data. But critics have attacked what they called a non-liberal ruse to mask the severity of the impact of the pandemic in Brazil, where more than 37,000 lives have been lost.
Some drew a parallel with the suppression of information in authoritarian countries such as North Korea and Venezuela, while others recalled how Brazil’s own military regime had concealed a meningitis epidemic in the 1970s, with devastating consequences.
On Monday evening, Supreme Court judge Alexandre de Moraes reportedly gave the Bolsonaro administration 48 hours to start releasing full figures every day after a court challenge by two opposition parties.
Randolfe Rodrigues, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, celebrated this decision. “The government will now be forced to disclose the pandemic data, as before, without makeup or manipulation”, the senator tweeted.
On Monday, in the absence of complete official statistics, a coalition of the major Brazilian media released its own tally of the country’s total number of Covid-19 deaths and infections: 37,312 and 710,887 respectively. Only the United States recorded more cases.
Bolsonaro continues to attack what he calls media sensationalism from Covid-19, which he called “a little cold.”
Bolsonaro accused journalists on Tuesday of causing a “panic” at a cabinet television meeting on Tuesday and seized a comment from a World Health Organization official that people spread the coronavirus without symptoms could be “rare”, as evidence that Brazil should reopen.
“What we want most is to get back to normal and get the country back on the road to prosperity,” said Bolsonaro.
A vocal ally, Minister of Citizenship Onyx Lorenzoni, criticized the media lie for exaggerating Brazil’s problems. “Whatever the government does, the extremist press is always trying to create controversy or lower its work,” he told Bolsonaro.
“But I’m sure that with God in your heart and the truth that you always carry with you … you realize that we will eliminate these lies, one by one,” added Lorenzoni.
The latest dispute over the president’s response to the pandemic comes as many key states, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, are starting a partial reopening, contrary to the advice of many experts.
On Saturday, the governor of Rio announced that shopping malls and bars may reopen – although the moves were temporarily suspended by court order on Monday.
Margareth Dalcolmo, a researcher with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a biomedical research institute, said it was too early to reopen. “I fear that this premature reopening that we see will cause an explosion of cases in two weeks – it is the time between infection and symptoms,” warned the pulmonologist.
“Our governors and mayors must be open to a new judgment.”