The abrupt reduction in publicly available data at a time when the virus is exploding in the country outraged many Brazilians, who saw it as attempt by President Jair Bolsonaro to obscure the severity of an outbreak he has repeatedly sought to minimize.
Brazil has reported more than 742,000 cases, second only to the United States, and 38,000 dead. But Bolsonaro has called the data unreliable.
The country’s supreme court ruled Monday that the government must resume posting its consolidated data. Justice Alexandre de Moraes said that the “abrupt interruption in the collection and release of important epidemiological data” constituted a “grave risk” and that the government must carry out the “principle of transparency.”
In recent days, Bolsonaro and his allies have sought to undermine the registry, alleging without evidence that state governors had inflated their counts to secure larger budgets.
But Eduardo Pazuello, Bolsonaro’s interim health minister, has rejected those allegations. “I don’t think states and cities are sending wrong numbers, according to some hypothesis,” he said at a congressional hearing Tuesday. “This is the data that they have.”
Pazuello, Bolsonaro’s third health minister since the start of the country’s outbreak, called the numbers “impossible to hide” and said he agreed with the court order. “There will be no need to force me into carrying this out,” the former army general said. “It will be carried out immediately.”
The data reappeared Tuesday.
The collision between the executive and judicial branches was only the latest in a sharply escalating conflict that has roiled the country’s political landscape and led to fears the military could again intervene in domestic affairs.
Bolsonaro, facing numerous investigations and the worst health and economic crises in decades, has grown increasingly aggressive against what he views as attempts to constrain his powers. His supporters have called on him to lead a military takeover. He has attended their rallies, asserted the military was on their side and declared he has the “weapons of democracy in my hands.”
José Antonio Dias Toffoli, Brazil’s chief justice, rejected calls for a military takeover. He said Tuesday the armed forces “are not government institutions” but “serve the Brazilian people.”
Rather than fighting among themselves, he said, Brazilians “have to be united in the fight against the pandemic, with transparency, with the help of the press, with liberty of expression. We can’t accept anything that is against the democratic right of the state.”