‘Brazil suffocates’: COVID surge creates severe oxygen crisis | News on the coronavirus pandemic

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Earlier this year, the jungle city of Manaus sent shockwaves across the world when hospitals ran out of oxygen with fatal consequences – making the city the global epicenter of COVID-19.

Two months later, the COVID disaster in Brazil has never been worse. Now, with new variants of the coronavirus and a string of grim records of deaths and infections, there are fears that a lack of oxygen supply seen in Manaus, the state capital of Amazonas, may occur elsewhere. .

Brazil nears 300,000 COVID deaths, sets another weekly record last week with 2,255 deaths and 513,408 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. Amid this surge, Fiocruz epidemiologist Jesem Orellana told Al Jazeera that a lack of oxygen, intubation drugs and medical supplies could push Brazilian hospitals closer to collapse within weeks. come.

“The signs are very clear. Today, the country becomes Manaus, ”he said.

According to Orellana, the cascade of new infections and critically ill patients requiring intensive care is draining the country’s oxygen, drug and equipment resources.

In nearly all of Brazil’s 26 states and its Federal District, COVID intensive care units have become so overcrowded, with several to 100% of their capacity, that there have been reports of patients dying in hospitals in the absence of beds available. Other deaths have been reported due to oxygen shortages due to extremely high demand.

Scenes of terror

In the city of Campo Bom, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, six COVID patients died last Friday due to problems with the oxygen supply at Lauro Reus Hospital. Local witnesses described scenes of terror as medics called for help when the fluid storage tanks drained for 30 minutes. According to a hospital statement, the deaths were due to a failure in the oxygen delivery system, rather than a lack of oxygen.

However, Lannes Osorio, the hospital’s health secretary, informed Al Jazeera that the problem arose due to the overflow of COVID intensive care units which are currently operating at 300% above average.

“The issue of low oxygen supplies is not limited to our hospital or our state, it is a national problem,” he said.

Even São Paulo, Brazil’s richest city, is not immune to a lack of oxygen in hospitals that treat COVID patients. Less than 12 hours later, similar scenes occurred at the EPA Ermelino Matarazzo hospital, east of the capital.

The city reported that 10 patients had to be transferred Friday evening due to a lack of oxygen supply. However, São Paulo’s health secretary also dismissed the insufficient supply of oxygen, informing Al Jazeera that the problem was purely technical.

On Monday, the city of São Paulo reported that more than 89% of its intensive care beds were occupied. Meanwhile, São Paulo state reported a record 1,021 deaths on Monday alone, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

São Paulo’s health secretary urged Brazilians to abide by preventive measures to reduce transmission of the virus, exploding hospital demand and depletion of medical supplies.

Fiocruz researcher Orellana also said infections would continue to skyrocket over the next 15 days if state governors did not insist on implementing strict lockdowns in the coming weeks.

Tensions between Bolsonaro and governors

President Jair Bolsonaro, however, has resisted the idea, apparently afraid of the Economic impact and a backlash against his staunch supporters. The country has suffered 10% of COVID deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Last Friday, Bolsonaro accused mayors and governors of acting like dictators by stepping up containment measures, in what critics called a “boycott” of efforts to contain the fierce second wave.

Bahia Governor Rui Costa accused Bolsonaro in a local TV interview of acting “as an ally of the virus and the wave of deaths in the country”.

Adding to the public’s anger and fear, the fact that despite the country struggling with the worst health crisis in its history, vaccination remains woefully slow. And the high turnover of the country’s health ministers does not inspire confidence in Brazilians either. Bolsonaro’s fourth health minister since the start of the pandemic, Marcelo Queiroga, was sworn Tuesday.

Risk of oxygen shortage in Brazil

Newton de Oliveira, president of the Brazilian Gas Industry (IBG), the country’s only local company in São Paulo, is also lagging behind in the federal government’s handling of the pandemic of the disaster.

“Preventive measures should have already been taken. There was a lack of planning. The government should have treated the vaccines urgently, in order to avoid the chaotic spike in cases and deaths that we are currently facing, ”he said.

De Oliveira informed Al Jazeera that Brazil’s oxygen supply is “extremely critical”, where IBG’s oxygen demand has doubled to 100% in the past two months.

“What happened in Manaus is already here. Even today, we had a large influx of people in our factory bringing in cylinders to add gas, ”he added.

Last week, the Brazilian Health Association (Abramge) and the Brazilian Chamber of Chemicals alerted the Ministry of Health and other members of the federal government that medical and oxygen supplies could run out in the Next 20 days. But with infections continuing to skyrocket, experts say it could be sooner than that.

On Saturday, Anvisa, the Brazilian medical products regulatory agency, ordered all oxygen producers to declare their production and distribution capacity on a weekly basis.

The health ministry acknowledged the situation on Tuesday, warning that oxygen levels in six Brazilian states were critical, especially in west-central states like Acre and Rondonia, with Brazil having reported its deaths from afar in one day. the highest since the start of the pandemic.

The state of São Paulo has since announced that it will set up a factory in partnership with beer giant Ambev to produce 125 tanks of oxygen per day over the next 10 days. São Paulo’s lieutenant governor also said the state would seek help from the private sector to ensure a steady supply of medical oxygen to public hospitals.

In the north, the Amazonas Secretary of State for Health (SES-AM) scorned the risk of oxygen shortages, informing Al Jazeera that the state had achieved a balance between oxygen supply and demand since the collapse of its health care in January.

However, neighboring Rondonia state is at 97.6 percent intensive care unit occupancy and the attorney general’s office warned in a letter last week that the state “faces an oxygen shortage. imminent ”. Rondonia and Acre have enough supplies for two weeks. In the hard-hit state of west-central Mato Grosso, mechanics and gas stations are required to lend oxygen cylinders to hospitals.

Despite criticism from Bolsonaro, state governors and mayors have responded by implementing “mini-lockdowns” across the country in a desperate attempt to contain the transmission of the virus and control levels of oxygen consumption and drugs.

“Now is the time to stay at home,” urged Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the latest inmate against the coronavirus, in a televised address last week.

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