Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Saturday defended his government's move to partially withhold official data on the scale of the world's second-largest coronavirus outbreak.
Late on Friday, Brazil's Health Ministry took down a website showing the evolution of the epidemic over time and by state and municipality. The ministry also stopped reporting a total tally of confirmed cases, which have shot past 645,000 – more than anywhere outside the United States – and its overall death toll, which just passed Italy with more than 35,000.
"The cumulative data ... does not reflect the moment the country is in," Bolsonaro said on Twitter, citing a note from the ministry. "Other actions are underway to improve the reporting of cases and confirmation of diagnoses."
Neither Bolsonaro nor the ministry gave a reason for taking down the covid.saude.gov.br website, which had been a key public resource for tracking the pandemic. The page still appeared with an "under maintenance" notice at noon on Saturday.
The government also drew fire for pushing back the release of its daily tally of diagnoses and deaths, previously available around 5 p.m. but released in recent days near 10 p.m.
"Transparency of information is a powerful instrument for combating the epidemic," wrote Paulo Jeronimo de Sousa, head of the Brazilian Press Association, in a note accusing the government of "trying to silence the press at this late hour."
Asked by journalists on Friday about the delayed release, Bolsonaro needled the nation's most-watched news program, Jornal Nacional, which begins at 8:30 p.m.
"There goes the story for Jornal Nacional," he joked, adding that the show "likes to say Brazil has the record for deaths."
Brazil reported more new cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any other country on three consecutive days this week.
Bolsonaro tweeted on Saturday that a later daily update would "avoid undernotification and inconsistencies."