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Supreme Court rules Brazil must share virus data

Brazil's top court has ordered the Health Ministry to resume releasing all data related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The rapid ruling follows a ministry decision to no longer publish cumulative death and infection totals.

Brazil's highest court on Tuesday ruled that the country's health ministry must continue reporting all data related to coronavirus death and infection rates, after the ministry deleted large swathes of public information and said it would stop publishing cumulative totals.

The health ministry in Brazil 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," the Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes said in a statement published on the court's website early Tuesday.

He also noted "the disastrous consequences for the population if internationally recognized measures are not adopted, such as the collection, analysis, storage and dissemination of relevant epidemiological data."

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Health ministry removes virus data

Over the weekend, the health ministry had pulled down a significant amount of detailed information about the virus outbreak in Brazil and said it would no longer publish cumulative data on coronavirus deaths and infections. Last week, it had also moved back the release of the daily figures to late in the evening.

The move was met with outrage across the political spectrum.

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Speaking at a televised cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Interim Health Minister Eduaro Pazuello said it had not been the ministry's intention to revise the figures, adding that the government had not suggested casualties were being over-reported.

Registering fatalities by the day of death rather than the day registered gives a more accurate image of the outbreak's "true curve," he argued.

On Monday, the ministry had walked back its earlier announcement and said it would continue to release cumulative totals.

Pazuello is only in the job on an interim basis, after President Jair Bolsonaro consumed two health ministers during the course of a single outbreak. Bolsonaro sacked the first, while the second resigned in protest at the president undermining his own health advice, not least with repeated support for opponents of Brazil's lockdown measures. 

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Patchy testing complicates data

Critics had feared that a new practice of publishing only fatalities reported in the last 24 hours would fail to take into account instances where someone tested positive for COVID-19 days after the date of death. Such cases are common in Brazil, where testing has been erratic.

The recent action made it "impossible" to monitor the outbreak and to implement necessary controls, Justice Moraes said.

At over 700,000 infections, Brazil is the country with the second-highest number of cases of coronavirus in the world, second only to the US. Over 37,000 people in Brazil have died from the virus.

kp/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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