Brazil coronavirus mortality rate drops, but data is misleading

coronavirus deaths brazil
Photo: Tânia Rêgo/ABr

São Paulo reopened bars and restaurants today, while Rio de Janeiro saw its beaches and drinking holes packed over the weekend. To justify this move toward reopening, regional governments cite recent Health Ministry claims that the lethality rate of the disease is falling around the country. However, this data is highly misleading. While the number of deaths as a share of total cases is going down — 7 percent early in May to just over 4 percent now — there is no reason for celebration just yet.

Brazilian testing data is extremely limited and unreliable. Among the nations with most coronavirus cases, Brazil has posted one of the lowest testing rates per 1 million people. Only the most severe infections — which force patients to go to the hospital — are being tested. The data suggests that healthcare systems are now becoming more able to cope with diagnostic demand. In São Paulo and Manaus, field hospitals have even been shut down as intensive care unit occupancy rates fall.

But the quality of tests in Brazil is also in doubt. Just last week, federal prosecutors launched Operation False Negative, investigating alleged fraud in the purchase of rapid Covid-19 tests in several states — notably federal capital Brasília. Deals were allegedly overpriced and tests were of poor quality, say law enforcement. Due to the pandemic, the purchase of essential health materials was fast-tracked and didn’t need to observe the strict laws of public procurement usually enforced.

Cases and deaths will go up again, experts warn

Data from In Loco, a company that tracks GPS data on 60 million-plus cell phones, suggests that social isolation rates have dropped to pre-quarantine levels, with around 30 percent of people staying home. But research from think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas — in partnership with the Universities of São Paulo and Oxford — shows that eight state capitals analyzed didn’t meet World Health Organization criteria to reopen non-essential businesses.

Moreover, the panic we witnessed in March and April has now given way to people behaving as if they are invincible. In Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, social gatherings are widespread, driving infection rates up once more. An increase in death is expected to follow soon.

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