The body of Valnir Mendes da Silva, 62, lays on a sidewalk of Arara community, where he died after residents requested help from the emergency service as he was suffering from breathing problems, during the coronavirus outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 17, 2020. According to residents, it took about 30 hours to remove the body. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

As Brazil reaches 694,116 total confirmed coronavirus cases and 36,602 deaths, the country is now reducing the amount of coronavirus news available to the public at the behest of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazilian health ministry officials initially took down the official website on Friday, then relaunched it Saturday without historical data showing statistics from the beginning of the pandemic, updating the numbers to display coronavirus numbers within a 24-hour span. The health ministry site has a section titled “Limitations” in which they offer their explanation for confusion about coronavirus data. The site stated, “Data reported daily is subject to change,” adding, “it is possible that there will be changes in the number of cases or deaths as a result of errors or delays in the transfer of information.” The previous coronavirus dashboard contained information such as accumulated stats, regional distribution, and downloadable data.

While the ministry of health is attempting to reassure the public about the reasoning behind these changes, the ministry is also highlighting “fake news” and their efforts to combat it, which will include a WhatsApp service through which citizens can obtain coronavirus related information fact-checked by the ministry. The Brazilian Senate is set to vote on a “fake news bill” entitled “Lei das Fake News,” which would allow government access to data without requiring a warrant, among other broad grants of authority.

This move has been met with backlash from citizens as well as lawmakers, with Brazilian Speaker of the Lower House Rodrigo Maia stating the government was “playing with death,” adding, “It is urgent to recover the credibility of the statistics. A ministry that tortures numbers creates a parallel world so as not to face the reality of the facts.” Previously fired Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has stated that the “health ministry is suffering a military occupation,” citing President Bolsonaro’s increasing reliance on military officials to run top government positions, including in the health ministry itself.

Source: New York Times / Data: Ministério da Saúde (Ministry of Health) of Brazil; Wesley Cota (aggregated state data). Circles are sized by the number of people there who have tested positive, which may differ from where they contracted the illness.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Brazil removes virus data amid rising death toll – BBC News – 6/7/2020
The health ministry said it would now only be reporting cases and deaths in the past 24 hours, no longer giving a total figure as most countries do. […] The Latin American country has more than 640,000 confirmed infections, but the number is believed to be much higher because of insufficient testing. More than 35,000 people have died, the third-highest toll in the world.

Brazil’s Government Accused of a “Statistical Coup” After it Limited Publishing of COVID-19 Data – Time – 6/7/2020
The health ministry web page for COVID-19 data went offline on Friday night, Brazilian newspaper Globo reported. When the page returned, the cumulative figures for Brazil’s total cases and deaths were gone, and only daily figures for new cases and deaths were visible. The option to download the data — essential for analyzing the figures and comparing them to other countries — was no longer available.

Thousands protest in Brazil amid coronavirus crisis – Al Jazeera – 6/8/2020
“I came out despite the quarantine because I have to fight for all of us,” Fernanda, a protester, told Al Jazeera. “Bolsonaro is a threat to democracy and our lives.” […] “Bolsonaro doesn’t care about Black lives,” Bianca de Azus said. “Fifty-four percent of Brazilians are black and we are the ones being hardest hit by COVID-19 and poverty. That’s why he does nothing.”

As Brazil sees record deaths, Bolsonaro proclaims: Death is ‘everyone’s destiny’ – Fox News – 6/5/2020
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly down played the severity of the virus calling it “a little flu” and when asked what he would say to Brazilians who have suffered from the pandemic, he said death is “everyone’s destiny.” […] A local newspaper, the Folha de S.Paulo, said the virus now is “killing a Brazilian per minute” and noted that “While you were reading this, another Brazilian died from the coronavirus,” Reuters reported.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Randa Habib on Twitter, 6/7/2020: Brazilians took to the streets in Sao Paulo and Brasilia for rival demonstrations for and against President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been widely criticised over his response to the coronavirus pandemic #Brazil

Fabiano Angelico on Twitter, 6/7/2020: … for President Jair Bolsonaro, even during the pandemic, and there have already been questions about the accuracy of official figures. The federal government urgently needs to re-establish the databases and give guarantees about their accuracy”

New York Times on Twitter, 6/8/2020: “We’re just at the beginning of a long, painful, hopeless quarantine,” says @vmbarbara_

Terrence McCoy on Twitter, 6/7/2020: As Brazil notes record number of deaths, Bolsonaro, a man who’s done little but minimize the crisis, has seized complete control of the response. Gone are two health ministers, with a military man the replacement. Now he’s taking aim at the data itself.

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