Rio de Janeiro sees eight times more deaths in 2020

. Jun 24, 2020
rio de janeiro covid-19 pandemic deaths Members of an NGO place several crosses along Copacabana Beach to honor Covid-19 victims. Photo: Andre MA/Shutterstock

While the coronavirus epidemic has already been recognized as the deadliest event in Brazilian history (barring colonization and slavery, which lasted for centuries), there is a consensus that official data doesn’t come close to defining the full extent of the crisis. Underreporting has been denounced in several states and municipalities, as The Brazilian Report has illustrated recently. One of the persistent inconsistencies with Brazil’s pandemic data regards deaths as a result of Covid-19 being recorded with different causes. In that vein, properly identifying the scale of the crisis may be achieved by analyzing the absolute number of deaths around the country. And in many of Brazil’s major state capitals, mortality has gone through the roof in March, April, and May of this year.

</p> <p>In the case of Rio de Janeiro, the city has recorded eight times more deaths than the average for the past four years in the same period. <strong>The Brazilian Report </strong>analyzed data from Civil Registry transparency platforms and found that in May, 16,356 people died in Rio de Janeiro — the average number for the month in the last four years is just 2,007.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-scatter" data-src="visualisation/2952436" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <p>This explosion of deaths indicates gross underreporting of Covid-19 victims. Data compiled by with information from the local health authorities show that the city of Rio de Janeiro has registered around 6,000 coronavirus deaths since the beginning of the pandemic — whereas there were over 14,000 more deaths above average in the city in May alone.</p> <p>Earlier this month, <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> showed that in cities with relatively low Covid-19 death tolls, the number of victims of severe acute respiratory syndrome (ARDS) — which can be caused by the coronavirus — hit an <a href="">unprecedented spike.</a> While these comparisons are crucial to shed light on discrepancies, the full reality of deaths in Brazil this year remains opaque.</p> <h2>Crisis in Rio de Janeiro</h2> <p>The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, right-wing neo-charismatic Evangelical bishop Marcelo Crivella, announced the beginning of looser social isolation measures in the city at the beginning of June. Last week, the local football championship restarted, with the legendary Maracanã stadium hosting a dull match between Flamengo and Bangu. While the game was being played, <a href="">one patient died in the Covid-19 field hospital</a> set up in the stadium&#8217;s car park. </p> <p>On Tuesday, the state government appointed its <a href="">third new Health Secretary</a> since the beginning of the pandemic, bringing in Alex Bousquet, a colonel of the state&#8217;s Military Firefighters Corps. Edmar Santos was sacked from the post in May after <a href="">allegations of fraud</a> in the procurement of respirators for field hospitals. His replacement, doctor Fernando Ferry, resigned on Monday after just over a month in charge.</p> <p>In an interview to newspaper O Globo, Mr. Ferry said he left the job out of fear of being held criminally liable for what he called errors in the prior administration of the department.</p> <h2>Deaths spike in other state capitals</h2> <p>Like the city of Rio de Janeiro, another nine state capitals with populations of over 1 million people showed significant increases in deaths during the pandemic. In northern and northeastern cities Belém, Manaus, and São Luís, Civil Registry data showed around four times more deaths in May 2020 than the month&#8217;s average for the past four years. In São Paulo, the country&#8217;s biggest and wealthiest city, the total number of deaths recorded in May was just over three times the historical average.&nbsp;</p> <p>The data obtained from these transparency platforms include information about births, weddings, and deaths around the whole country. These figures are sent by registry offices and are not updated in real-time, hence our decision to analyze data from May, allowing sufficient time for the information to be submitted.</p> <p>Regardless, it is important to note that the data used has shown inconsistencies in the past. During research for this article, for example, <strong>The Brazilian Report </strong>found that the city of São Luís recorded only six, one, and three deaths for the months of March, April, and May of 2017. For a city of over 1 million people, this is statistically impossible. The following year, the numbers jumped to 316, 461, and 412 deaths, respectively.

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Aline Gatto Boueri

Aline Gatto Boueri is a data journalist. She has had her work published by Gênero e Número, Universa UOL, Marie Claire, Projeto Colabora, among others.

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