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As the coronavirus claims tens of thousands of lives in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro is focused on ensuring his political survival and mobilizing his far-right supporters to do so.

With less than one-third of Brazilians approving Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, and protests against him increasing, analysts say he’s shoring up his base to shield himself from possible impeachment and improve governability.

“He’s losing support and needs something to put in its place,” Mauricio Santoro, a professor of political science at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “Bolsonaro needs people on the street defending him.”

Casting doubt on COVID-19 statistics has been a mainstay in far-right circles and Bolsonaro has amplified that claim. So far COVID-19 has killed more than 36,000 Brazilians, but one wouldn’t know it from the Health Ministry’s website; it stopped publishing cumulative totals on Friday, the day after Brazil surpassed Italy to become third worldwide.

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After backlash, a top Health Ministry official told reporters Monday night that the body would restore the cumulative death toll to its website, as early as Tuesday, but with changes to the methodology for how daily deaths are tallied.

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