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Covid-stricken city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest begs for oxygen cylinders

The area is often referred to as ‘the Earth’s lungs’ because of its eco-system’s importance to the planet.

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A health worker checks the temperature of the locals as she tests for Covid-19 at the Indigenous Park, a tribal community in the outskirts of Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil (Edmar Barros/AP)

A health worker checks the temperature of the locals as she tests for Covid-19 at the Indigenous Park, a tribal community in the outskirts of Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil (Edmar Barros/AP)

A health worker checks the temperature of the locals as she tests for Covid-19 at the Indigenous Park, a tribal community in the outskirts of Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil (Edmar Barros/AP)

The biggest city in the Amazon rainforest, a region often described as “the Earth’s lungs”, has asked for more oxygen tanks to help treat coronavirus patients.

Despairing patients in overloaded hospitals waited as oxygen arrived to save some, but came too late for others.

At least one of the cemeteries of Manaus, a city of 2.2 million people, had mourners lining up to enter and bury their dead.

Brazilian artists, football clubs and politicians used their platforms to cry for help.

Brazil’s air force said in a statement that it had dispatched two planes with 18 tons of oxygen cylinders from Sao Paulo, with more planned to follow.

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A relative of a patient in hospital with Covid-19 prays during a protest in Manaus (Edmar Barros/AP)

A relative of a patient in hospital with Covid-19 prays during a protest in Manaus (Edmar Barros/AP)

A relative of a patient in hospital with Covid-19 prays during a protest in Manaus (Edmar Barros/AP)

The local government’s oxygen provider, multinational White Martins, said in a statement that it was considering diverting some of its supply from neighbouring Venezuela.

It was not immediately clear whether this would be sufficient to address the spiralling crisis.

“Yes, there is a collapse in the health care system in Manaus.

“The line for beds is growing by a lot — we have 480 people waiting now,” Brazil’s health minister Eduardo Pazuello said in a Thursday night broadcast on social media.

“We are starting to remove patients with less serious (conditions) to reduce the impact.”

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

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

“My grandmother died today because of lack of oxygen,” Mayline da Mata, 30, said outside one Manaus hospital.

“My grandmother, 84 years old, couldn’t survive. She needed 15 litres per minute, and there wasn’t enough.”

Developing nations’ medical facilities often lack the reliable supply of oxygen that is found in wealthy Europe and North America, where hospitals treat oxygen as a fundamental need and it is delivered in liquid form by tankers and piped directly to the beds of coronavirus patients.

But even in Los Angeles this month, a surge of coronavirus cases overwhelmed medical staff, created a shortage of oxygen and led to a directive to ambulance crews to stop transporting patients they cannot revive in the field.

All of the world looks at us when there is a problem as the Earth’s lungs. Now we are asking for help. Our people need this oxygenWilson Lima. governor of Brazil's Amazonas region

The strain in Manaus prompted Amazonas state’s government to say it would transport 235 patients who depend on oxygen but are not in intensive care units 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 earlier.

“All of the world looks at us when there is a problem as the Earth’s lungs,” he said, alluding to a common description of 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.

Federal prosecutors in the city, however, asked a local judge to pressure President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to step up its support.

The prosecutors said later in the day that the main air force plane in the region for oxygen supply transportation “needs repair, which brought a halt to the emergency influx”.

Friday morning, many of Mr Bolsonaro’s critics alleged that his administration had failed in its responsibility to foresee and prepare for the shortage, and called for a pot-banging protest in the evening under the hashtag #BrazilSuffocated.

Mr Bolsonaro told supporters outside the presidential residence that his government had done its part by providing resources and means, newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported.

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Relatives watch a bulldozer move earth over the coffin of a coronavirus victim at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil (Edmar Barros/AP)

Relatives watch a bulldozer move earth over the coffin of a coronavirus victim at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil (Edmar Barros/AP)

Relatives watch a bulldozer move earth over the coffin of a coronavirus victim at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil (Edmar Barros/AP)

The air force said in a separate statement that it was deploying two planes to transport patients along with medical teams, starting on Friday.

The US Embassy in Brasilia also confirmed it had received a request from the federal government to support the initiative, without providing details.

Local authorities recently called on the federal government to reinforce Manaus’ stock of oxygen.

The city’s 14-day death toll is approaching the peak of last year’s first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, according to official data.

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