At least 16 COVID patients have died from asphyxiation as hospitals run out of oxygen in the Amazon.
The city of Manaus is the capital to the Brazilian State of Amazonas, in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. With a population of just over 2.2 million people, the city saw a devastating first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, when its health system collapsed. Hospitals operating over capacity were forced to tell new incoming patients to seek treatment elsewhere.
Back in April, a combination of full cemeteries and coffin shortages forced locals to bury their dead in promptly-dug mass graves. And, as if a tsunami of a first COVID-19 wave wasn’t dire enough, the second wave is proving itself to be even worse.
The death toll for the last two weeks is already overtaking previous records, suggesting that the whole story is repeating itself again. Only this time, as of January 11th, local hospitals announced that they had run out of oxygen for their patients. As a result, an investigation revealed that at least 16 people died of asphyxiation, with statements from locals suggesting that the number could be even higher.
Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said that he was warned on the 8th of January by White Martins, the multinational company that supplies oxygen cylinders to hospitals in Northern Brazil, that a shortage was imminent due to a spike in demand, advising the Minister to put in place a contingency plan.
However, a report sent to the Supreme Court, by the Solicitor General (SG), highlighted that the issue had already been discussed during a prior meeting with Pazuello on the 3rd and 4th of January. The SG also reported that as an initial response, the Minister’s only action was to send 120,000 hydroxychloroquine pills to Manaus – a medication that has no scientific evidence to work against COVID-19, but that has been promoted by the sitting president, Jair Bolsonaro.
The SG, Human Rights Watch and medical professionals blame the Health Minister and the Federal government for the slow response that took away lives that could have been saved. In response, the federal government claims to have done everything that was possible and shifts the blame to state authorities.
During the pandemic, Brazil was the country with the second largest COVID death toll, with over 200 thousand deaths, only falling behind the United States.
A local man called the crisis darkly ironic: “A lot of people in the world call us the lungs of our planet, yet people here are dying because they can’t breathe.”