(Adds detail on ministry figures)
By Pedro Fonseca and Roberto Samora
RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO, June 8 (Reuters) - After removing cumulative numbers for how many people have died in Brazil of coronavirus from a national website, the Health Ministry sowed further confusion and controversy by releasing two contradictory sets of figures for the latest tally of infection cases and fatalities.
Initially, data released on Sunday evening said Brazil had a total death toll of 37,312 and total cases of 685,427. That meant, although the ministry did not break out these daily numbers, that in the previous 24 hours the country had registered 1,382 new deaths and 12,581 new cases.
But later on Sunday, the ministry updated its online data portal with completely different figures. The government website that publishes coronavirus data put the day's dead at 525 and new cases at 18,912.
It did not publish a cumulative total, but the second batch of figures would take the total tally to 36,455 deaths and 691,758 cases.
On Monday morning the Health Ministry changed the initial data sent to journalists to match the numbers on the website.
The ministry did not explain the original divergence and why it has now settled on the lower death toll.
The divergence casts yet more doubt on Brazil's figures. Over the weekend Brazil removed from public view months of national data on the epidemic, which critics said was another attempt at hiding the soaring death toll.
That followed a move last week to push back the release of the daily tally from around 5 p.m. to near 10 p.m, after the country's main television news program has aired.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has come under growing criticism for the way his government has handled the data and his general approach to the pandemic, which he has regularly played down as a "little flu."
Brazil is now one of the main epicenters of the pandemic, with the second highest number of confirmed cases only behind the United States, and a death toll that last week surpassed Italy's.
Confusion over the figures has led a group of Brazil's largest media outlets to launch their own data tracking system, according to Folha de S.Paulo, the country's largest newspaper by circulation.
The National Council of Health Secretaries (Conass), which brings together the health departments of Brazil's states and is separate from the Health Ministry, has also created its own platform.
According to the council, Brazil had recorded 680,456 cases of COVID-19 and 36,151 deaths from the disease by the end of Sunday afternoon. (Reporting by Pedro Fonseca and Roberto Samora; writing by Jamie McGeever; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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