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Oxygen deficiency in the Amazon city forces mass transfer of patients

SAO PAULO (AP) – Dozens of COVID-19 patients in the Amazon rainforest’s largest city will be flown out of state when the local health system collapses, authorities announced Thursday that declining stocks of oxygen tanks meant some people began to die breathlessly at home .

Doctors in Manaus, a city of 2 million people, chose which patients to treat, and at least one of the city’s cemeteries asked mourners to line up to come in and bury their dead. Patients in congested hospitals waited in despair all day as oxygen cylinders arrived to rescue some but arrived too late for others.

The tribes led the Amazon state government to say it would transport 235 patients who are dependent on oxygen but are not in intensive care units to five other states and the federal capital, Brasilia.

“I want to thank the governors who give us their hand in a human gesture,”

; Amazonian government Wilson Lima told a news conference Thursday.

“The whole world looks at us when there is a problem like the lungs of the Earth,” he said, referring to a common description of the Amazon. “Now we are asking for help. Our people need this oxygen. ”

Many other governors and mayors elsewhere in the country later offered help amid a stream of social media videos in which disturbing relatives of COVID-19 patients in Manaus asked supporters to buy them oxygen.

Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão said on Twitter that the country’s air force had taken more than eight tons of hospital items including oxygen bottles, beds and tents to Manaus.

However, federal prosecutors in the city asked a local judge to put pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to strengthen his support. Prosecutors said later in the day that the region’s most important air force plan for oxygen supply “needs repairs, which slowed the influx.”

Neither the Air Force nor the Federal Department of Health responded to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

The US Embassy in Brasilia confirmed that it had received a request from local authorities to support the initiative without providing detailed information.

Manaus authorities recently urged the federal government to strengthen their dwindling oxygen stock needed to sustain COVID-19 breathing. The city’s 14-day death toll is approaching the peak of last year’s first wave of coronavirus pandemic, according to official data.

In the first peak, Manaus consumed a maximum of 30,000 cubic meters of oxygen per day, and now the need has more than doubled to almost 70,000 cubic meters, according to White Martins, the multinational company that supplies oxygen to Manaus’ public hospitals. At his press conference, Governor White Martins blamed the lack of supplies.

“Due to the strong impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the oxygen consumption in the city has increased exponentially in the last few days compared to a volume that was already extremely high,” White Martins said in an email statement to the AP. “Demand is much higher than anything predictable and … continues to grow significantly.”

The company added that Manaus’ remote location presents challenging logistics that require additional warehouses to be transported by boat and by plane. It also said it was considering bringing supplies from neighboring Venezuela to ease the difficulties in Manaus.

The governor also ordered several health restrictions, including the suspension of public transport and the establishment of curfews between 1 p.m. 19 and at

The new measures challenged protesters who carried Brazilian flags through the streets on Thursday morning. Lima, once considered an ally of Bolsonaro, has come under fire from supporters of the Conservative president for imposing new restrictions aimed at curbing the virus’ recent rise.

Bolsonaro has downplayed the risk of the disease, saying the economic downturn in the pandemic will kill more than the virus. His son Eduardo, a lawmaker who heads the Committee on International Relations in Brazil’s lower house, was one of the many conservatives who egged on their supporters in December to challenge social distancing and disobey becoming home orders.

The Park of the Tribes, a community of more than 2,500 indigenous peoples 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, said Vanda Ortega, a volunteer nurse in the community. Two went to emergency units, but no one has yet required hospitalization.

“We are really very concerned,” said Ortega, who belongs to the Witoto ethnicity. “There is chaos here in Manaus. There is no oxygen for anyone. ”

The case of cases follows two months of more frequent gatherings, first during the local elections in November with large rallies and long voters, followed by festivities at the end of the year.

The city of Manaus declared a state of emergency on 5 January. The decree allows the municipal government to temporarily enter into contracts with staff, services and materials without public tenders. A separate decree suspends the permit for events and revokes those already allocated, while a third establishes teleworking for non-important municipal employees until March.

A paper published this week indicated that a new strain of coronavirus had been circulating in Manaus since mid-December. The newspaper said concerns were raised about greater transmissibility or potential for reinfection, although such options are still unproven.

A positive COVID-19 test does not reveal which variant of the virus the patient has, but it is likely that the new strain has been partly responsible for driving Manaus’ second wave, according to Pedro Hallal, an epidemiologist who coordinates the Federal University of Pelotas ‘test program, by far Brazil’s most comprehensive.

“If it circulated in mid-December, it would probably circulate a lot more,” Hallal said by telephone. “So I think at least some of the new infections are due to the new strain. We do not have the specific data on that, but it is very likely. ”


Associated Press author Mauricio Savarese reported this story in Sao Paulo, and AP author David Biller reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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