The official count of coronavirus cases in Brazil does not reflect the ground reality, says a new study by researchers at a consortium of Brazilian universities and institutes. According to the study, the country possibly has 12 times more cases than the officially reported numbers.

Known as the Center for Health Operations and Intelligence, the consortium estimated that only 8 per cent of the cases have been reported by authorities. This has led to a higher-than-expected death rate, indicating underreporting of cases.

Emphasising on the dangers of understating real numbers, the center said: "The high degree of under-notification could give a false impression about control of the disease, and consequently, could lead to a decline in containment measures."

Discrepancy in reported numbers

Based on the latest reports, the number of confirmed cases in Brazil stands at 23,723 and the number of casualties has risen to 1,355. The researchers analysed the ratio of cases that resulted in deaths till April 10. Following this, they compared it with the data on the expected death rate provided by the World Health Organization to conclude that the death rate in the nation is higher than expected.

Brazil Flag
Brazilian Flag Pixabay

Another important aspect that the researchers drew attention to was the number of hospitalizations for severe respiratory symptoms. Year to date, the number of hospital admissions for respiratory conditions for this time of the year has been three times higher than usual. However, only 12 percent have been diagnosed with the coronavirus infection.

The researchers also predicted the number of cases the country could be facing by 20 April. Their conservative estimates suggest an increase to 25,164. However, under a grimmer scenario, it could grow exponentially to 60,413 cases.

Testing insufficient

According to the consortium, testing for COVID-19 has been focused only on serious cases, instead of being inclusive of all suspected cases. Complaints of long wait time to obtain test results have been raised by medical professionals in the Latin American nation.

While Brazil's Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta acknowledged that testing requires to be ramped up, he also said that the country's size presented a challenge when it came to the distribution of tests.

Luiz Henrique Mandetta
Luiz Henrique Mandetta Wikimedia Commons

As of 9 April, the country had an estimated 127,000 suspected cases, while the number of tests conducted was roughly 63,000, as per health ministry reports. In the report issued on 10 April, the current testing capacity of the country stood at 6,700. Nevertheless, it recognised the need to carry out 30,000–50,000 tests every day during the expected peak of the outbreak of the disease in June. A ministry report on Monday said that over 93,000 tests were still awaiting results.

All's not well within the government

An all-out conflict has ensued between the country's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and his Health Minister Mandetta. While Bolsonaro has downplayed the risk and magnitude of the infection in Brazil, Mandetta and other authorities such as state governors and local officials have called for stricter measures. Not only has Bolsonaro written off concerns but has also publicly flouted measures such as social distancing that Mandetta has been advocating.

Jair Bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Facebook/Jair Bolsonaro

The dissonance between the president and his health minister even led to reports suggesting that the former was mulling the sacking of the latter. Bolsanoro, however, continues to enjoy the popular support of the people. In a recent poll, 59 per cent of Brazilian citizens did not approve of his impeachment amid the pandemic.

Mandetta recently pleaded for the unification of the country against the disease. "I hope we can speak with a single, unified message, because otherwise Brazilians end up doubting. They don't know whether to listen to the health minister, the president. Who should they listen to," he said in an interview.

(With inputs from agencies)