Brazilian hospitals run out of oxygen amid new coronavirus strain in Amazon

Brazil‘s new strain of coronavirus is ripping through the Amazon where tearful locals wait desperately for dwindling oxygen supplies to keep their relatives alive and doctors face the wretched task of deciding who can breathe.  

At one hospital in Manaus, a despairing relative carried an oxygen tank for his own mother-in-law just to help her breathe for another two hours – with one expert describing the city as a ‘suffocation chamber’. 

Infections have soared to record levels in Brazil with the ‘worrying’ new variant feared to be the dominant strain in the state of Amazonas and described by one expert as ‘very probably’ more contagious than the previous type.  

The variant has already been detected as far afield as Japan and spooked UK ministers into shutting down travel from the whole of South America, after another new strain was blamed for a dramatic surge in cases in Britain.

In Manaus, whose mass graves became a symbol of the first wave of the pandemic in Brazil, cemeteries are again burying record number of patients as the new strain causes a total ‘collapse’ of the healthcare system.    

Hundreds of patients are being airlifted to other states while non-Covid sufferers are evicted from their beds to make way for those in greater need, with doctors and relatives have described ‘nightmare’ scenes of medical workers breaking down in tears. And with nearly 500 people still waiting for beds in Manaus, some elderly virus sufferers are being left to die at home. 

Heartbreaking: Relatives of patients being treated at the 28 de Agosto hospital in Manaus share a tearful hug as the healthcare system in the Amazon's largest city faces 'collapse' and a dire shortage of oxygen

Heartbreaking: Relatives of patients being treated at the 28 de Agosto hospital in Manaus share a tearful hug as the healthcare system in the Amazon's largest city faces 'collapse' and a dire shortage of oxygen

Heartbreaking: Relatives of patients being treated at the 28 de Agosto hospital in Manaus share a tearful hug as the healthcare system in the Amazon’s largest city faces ‘collapse’ and a dire shortage of oxygen 

Emergency: Healthcare workers transport a 77-year-old patient on a stretcher at a Manaus hospital after he came down with coronavirus symptoms, as a new strain which is feared to be more contagious spreads across the Amazon

Emergency: Healthcare workers transport a 77-year-old patient on a stretcher at a Manaus hospital after he came down with coronavirus symptoms, as a new strain which is feared to be more contagious spreads across the Amazon

Emergency: Healthcare workers transport a 77-year-old patient on a stretcher at a Manaus hospital after he came down with coronavirus symptoms, as a new strain which is feared to be more contagious spreads across the Amazon 

Overwhelmed: Gravediggers wearing green and yellow hazmat suits bury a foil-wrapped coffin at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, with mourning relatives having to queue to bury their dead

Overwhelmed: Gravediggers wearing green and yellow hazmat suits bury a foil-wrapped coffin at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, with mourning relatives having to queue to bury their dead

Overwhelmed: Gravediggers wearing green and yellow hazmat suits bury a foil-wrapped coffin at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, with mourning relatives having to queue to bury their dead 

A municipal healthcare worker covers the body of an 84-year-old Brazilian who died at home during the deadly outbreak

A municipal healthcare worker covers the body of an 84-year-old Brazilian who died at home during the deadly outbreak

A municipal healthcare worker covers the body of an 84-year-old Brazilian who died at home during the deadly outbreak 

An oxygen cylinder is wheeled into the Getulio Vargas hospital amid drastic shortages of the substance needed to treat coronavirus patients suffering breathing problems

An oxygen cylinder is wheeled into the Getulio Vargas hospital amid drastic shortages of the substance needed to treat coronavirus patients suffering breathing problems

An oxygen cylinder is wheeled into the Getulio Vargas hospital amid drastic shortages of the substance needed to treat coronavirus patients suffering breathing problems 

Cases in Brazil are at their highest level ever, with more than 360,000 in the last week alone

Cases in Brazil are at their highest level ever, with more than 360,000 in the last week alone

The daily death rate is hovering around 1,000 for the first time since the first wave peaked in the Southern Hemisphere winter

The daily death rate is hovering around 1,000 for the first time since the first wave peaked in the Southern Hemisphere winter

Cases in Brazil are at their highest level ever, with more than 360,000 in the last week alone, while the daily death rate is hovering around 1,000 for the first time since the first wave peaked in the Southern Hemisphere winter.

As the oxygen crisis mounts, Brazil’s health minister Eduardo Pazuello said a plane full of medical supplies would arrive on Friday, followed by four others, but it was not clear whether this would be enough to fill the gap. 

The city has ‘run out of oxygen and some health centers have become a type of suffocation chamber,’ said Jessem Orellana from the Fiocruz-Amazonia scientific investigation institute. 

The oxygen provider in Manaus, White Martins, said it was considering diverting some of its supply from neighbouring Venezuela – while military personnel delivered 400 oxygen cylinders to Amazonas in five days. 

At the Hospital Universitario Getulio Vargas, health workers took empty cylinders to the oxygen provider in the hope there would be some to retrieve. 

Patients waited anxiously in the hospital as oxygen arrived in time to save some, but too late for others. In echoes of the worst days of the crisis in Europe, doctors were having to decide which patients to treat. 

‘Yes, there is a collapse in the health care system in Manaus,’ the health minister said. ‘The line for beds is growing by a lot – we have 480 people waiting now. ‘We are starting to remove patients with less serious [conditions] to reduce the impact.’ 

Harrowing accounts were emerging of patients who died with no oxygen, with one grieving relative telling Globo: ‘You have no idea what it was like… the shouting, people were dying. Even health professionals, everyone was crying.’ 

‘The oxygen stopped, the patients were dying on the stretchers and the nurses did not know what to do,’ another relative said.  

The new variant, described by the WHO as ‘worrying’, is feared to be more contagious and to have spread throughout Brazil and possibly further – with Britain shutting down travel from South America on Thursday. 

In a move that prompted consternation in Portugal, transport secretary Grant Shapps said travel from the EU nation would also be halted because of its links with Brazil, although there are exemptions for truck drivers. 

Cases in Brazil are at their highest level ever, with more than 360,000 in the last week alone, while the daily death rate is hovering around 1,000 for the first time since the first wave peaked in the Southern Hemisphere winter.  

At least one cemetery in Manaus, a city of 2.2million people, had mourners queuing up to enter and bury their dead, with Brazilian artists and football teams joining the cry for help. 

According to official figures, Manaus on Wednesday saw a fourth straight day of record burials – 198, with 87 of them deaths from Covid-19. 

A woman is comforted outside a Manaus hospital as armed personnel keep order during a disastrous outbreak in the city

A woman is comforted outside a Manaus hospital as armed personnel keep order during a disastrous outbreak in the city

A woman is comforted outside a Manaus hospital as armed personnel keep order during a disastrous outbreak in the city 

Medical workers wearing white hazmat suits examine the body of 53-year-old Shirlene Morais Costa, who died after suffering coroanvirus symptoms at home in Manaus

Medical workers wearing white hazmat suits examine the body of 53-year-old Shirlene Morais Costa, who died after suffering coroanvirus symptoms at home in Manaus

Medical workers wearing white hazmat suits examine the body of 53-year-old Shirlene Morais Costa, who died after suffering coroanvirus symptoms at home in Manaus 

A tiny stretcher brings in a baby suspected of having Covid-19 at the HRAN hospital in the federal capital Brasilia on Thursday

A tiny stretcher brings in a baby suspected of having Covid-19 at the HRAN hospital in the federal capital Brasilia on Thursday

A tiny stretcher brings in a baby suspected of having Covid-19 at the HRAN hospital in the federal capital Brasilia on Thursday

Vitor Cabral comforts his wife Raissa Floriana after her father was hospitalised with Covid-19 at the 28 de Agosto hospital

Vitor Cabral comforts his wife Raissa Floriana after her father was hospitalised with Covid-19 at the 28 de Agosto hospital

Vitor Cabral comforts his wife Raissa Floriana after her father was hospitalised with Covid-19 at the 28 de Agosto hospital

Hospitals in Manaus admitted few new Covid-19 patients on Thursday, suggesting many will suffer from the disease at home, and some will likely die.

Park of the Tribes, a community of more than 2,500 indigenous people on the outskirts of Manaus, went more than two months without any resident showing Covid-19 symptoms. 

In the past week, 29 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, said Vanda Ortega, a volunteer nurse in the community. Two went to urgent care units, but no one yet has required hospitalization.

‘We’re really very worried,’ said Ortega, who belongs to the Witoto ethnicity. ‘It’s chaos here in Manaus. There isn’t oxygen for anyone.’

The crisis has prompted the government in Amazonas to transport 235 patients who depend on oxygen to five other states and the federal capital Brasilia.

‘I want to thank those governors who are giving us their hand in a human gesture,’ Amazonas governor Wilson Lima said at a news conference on Thursday. 

‘All of the world looks at us when there is a problem [with] the Earth’s lungs,’ he said, using a poetic term for the Amazon. ‘Now we are asking for help. Our people need this oxygen.’

Governors and mayors throughout the country offered help amid a flood of social media videos in which distraught relatives of Covid-19 patients in Manaus begged for people to buy them oxygen. 

A woman cries during a protest outside the 28 Agosto hospital in Manaus, where authorities are planning to transport scores of patients to other states and the federal capital Brasilia

A woman cries during a protest outside the 28 Agosto hospital in Manaus, where authorities are planning to transport scores of patients to other states and the federal capital Brasilia

A woman cries during a protest outside the 28 Agosto hospital in Manaus, where authorities are planning to transport scores of patients to other states and the federal capital Brasilia 

Cemetery workers carry the remains of 89-year-old Abilio Ribeiro, who died of the coronavirus, into a grave in Manaus

Cemetery workers carry the remains of 89-year-old Abilio Ribeiro, who died of the coronavirus, into a grave in Manaus

Cemetery workers carry the remains of 89-year-old Abilio Ribeiro, who died of the coronavirus, into a grave in Manaus 

Military police officers patrol the streets in Manaus after a 7pm curfew was imposed to tackle the crisis in the Amazonian city

Military police officers patrol the streets in Manaus after a 7pm curfew was imposed to tackle the crisis in the Amazonian city

Military police officers patrol the streets in Manaus after a 7pm curfew was imposed to tackle the crisis in the Amazonian city 

Amazonas authorities have even appealed to the United States to send a military transport plane to Manaus with oxygen cylinders, a Brazilian congressman said. 

But there are growing demands Brazil’s federal government to do more, with president Jair Bolsonaro under pressure to act after long downplaying the dangers of Covid-19. 

Federal prosecutors in Manaus have asked a local judge to pressure Bolsonaro’s administration to step up its support, saying that an air force plane for oxygen transportation ‘needs repair, which brought a halt to the emergency influx’. 

Local authorities recently called on the federal government to reinforce Manaus’ stock of oxygen, while the air force said it was deploying two planes to transport patients.

During the first wave of the crisis, Manaus consumed a maximum 30,000 cubic metres of oxygen per day, but now the need has more than doubled to nearly 70,000 cubic metres, according to White Martins. 

‘Due to the strong impact of the Covid -19 pandemic, the consumption of oxygen in the city increased exponentially over the last few days in comparison with a volume that was already extremely high,’ White Martins said. ‘Demand is much higher than anything predictable and… continues to grow significantly.’

The company added that Manaus’ remote location presents challenging logistics, requiring additional stocks to be transported by boat and by plane.

Governor Lima – once seen as an ally of Bolsonaro – has also decreed more health restrictions, including the suspension of public transport and a curfew between 7pm and 6am. 

Lima said the state was ‘in the most critical moment of the pandemic’ as he announced the 10-day curfew beginning on Friday, saying that ‘we are in a war operation’. 

‘Here there aren’t any empty beds left, any oxygen tanks, nothing – all we have left is faith,’ Manaus resident Luiza Castro said. 

A struggling patient is transported by medical workers at the Getulio Vargas hospital in Manaus where health workers have been taking empty cylinders to a local oxygen provider in the hope there would be some available

A struggling patient is transported by medical workers at the Getulio Vargas hospital in Manaus where health workers have been taking empty cylinders to a local oxygen provider in the hope there would be some available

A struggling patient is transported by medical workers at the Getulio Vargas hospital in Manaus where health workers have been taking empty cylinders to a local oxygen provider in the hope there would be some available 

A man breaks down outside the 28 de Agosto hospital as Manaus faces a shortage of bed space and oxygen supplies

A man breaks down outside the 28 de Agosto hospital as Manaus faces a shortage of bed space and oxygen supplies

A man breaks down outside the 28 de Agosto hospital as Manaus faces a shortage of bed space and oxygen supplies 

A man walks on an empty street in Manaus after the governor of Amazonas imposed the curfew to curb the infection rate

A man walks on an empty street in Manaus after the governor of Amazonas imposed the curfew to curb the infection rate

A man walks on an empty street in Manaus after the governor of Amazonas imposed the curfew to curb the infection rate 

Bolsonaro, a right-wing former army captain often compared to Donald Trump, has raged against lockdowns and described the virus as a ‘little flu’, laughing off the dangers even when he himself was infected with the disease. 

He has also flouted social distancing by appearing at rallies of his supporters, and touted the unproven anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19. 

Felipe Naveca, an expert studying coronavirus mutations in Amazonas, said the new strain was ‘very probably’ more contagious than the original virus, just like new variants found in Britain and South Africa. 

The worsening situation in Manaus was not due only to one variant, he added, warning that authorities were expecting a rise in virus cases due to end-of-year parties.

‘We need urgent support from the population to reduce the transmission and slow down the virus’s evolution,’ Naveca said.

Experts worry new mutations could eventually show resistance to the vaccines developed to combat the original strain.

However, ‘right now there’s no evidence that this line prejudices the vaccine’s response,’ Naveca said, and Brazil aims to start its vaccination campaign sometime this month.

There is concern, though, the new variant could already have spread throughout Brazil, and it has been detected as far afield as Japan. 

Brazil has had 8.3million confirmed infections and 207,000 deaths in total. The number of fatalities is second only to the United States.  

link

(Visited 6 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply