By Lisandra Paraguassu and Jamie McGeever
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s top court waded into the controversy surrounding official reporting of coronavirus death and infection rates, as a Supreme Court justice ruled the Health Ministry must revert to releasing the full set of data it had previously made available.
Over the weekend, the Health Ministry abruptly removed troves of detailed coronavirus data and said it would no longer publish cumulative totals, causing outrage across the political spectrum. Last week, it pushed back the release of the numbers late into the evening and past Brazil’s main news program.
In a statement on the Supreme Court website early on Tuesday, Justice Alexandre de Moraes said the ministry must “fully re-establish the daily dissemination of epidemiological data on the COVID-19 pandemic, including on the agency’s website, under the terms presented until last Thursday.”
Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, speaking at a cabinet meeting broadcast on local TV, said there had never been any intention to revise the number of casualties, nor any suggestion from within the government that the figures have been over-reported.
He said registering fatalities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, by the date of death rather than the day of registration better reflected the epidemic’s “true curve.”
On Monday, the ministry rowed back on its earlier position, saying it would release data earlier and include cumulative totals.
Health experts had feared that by no longer publishing accumulated totals and only releasing deaths that occurred in the past 24 hours, cases in which someone tested positive for the new coronavirus days after their date of death could disappear from public view. In Brazil, where testing has been haphazard, such cases are common.
For Justice Moraes, the government’s actions in recent days made it “impossible” to monitor the spread of the virus and to implement adequate and necessary control and prevention policies.
Brazil’s confirmed cases, at more than 700,000, are the second highest in the world behind only the United States, and the death toll is now over 37,000.
Also on Tuesday, President Jair Bolsonaro repeated his threat to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization, which he claimed had acted irresponsibly as the pandemic unfolded and lost credibility.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Jamie McGeever; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum)