Hospitals in Manaus run out of oxygen amid coronavirus surge in Brazil

Hospitals in Manaus run out of oxygen amid coronavirus surge in Brazil

This isn’t the first time that COVID-19 has hit the city particularly hard.

By
Michael Fox

Player utilities

download

Listen to the story.

A health worker stands in front of an empty oxygen tank station, the only station at Joventina Dias Hospital, a small clinic in Manaus, Brazil, Jan. 15, 2021. Hospital staff and relatives of COVID-19 patients rushed to provide facilities with oxygen tanks just flown into the city as doctors chose which patients would breathe amid dwindling stocks and an effort to airlift some of them to other states.

Credit:

Edmar Barros/AP 

Share

A woman walks through a hospital parking lot in Manaus, Brazil, distraught, and pleas for help in a cellphone video she posts on Twitter.

On Thursday, the hospital where she works ran out of oxygen.

O que está acontecendo hoje em Manaus é um crime.

Está faltando oxigênio nas unidades de saúde.

Cadê o governador?
Os senadores do Estado?
O ministério da Saúde?

pic.twitter.com/b70utmS1l6

— Renan Brites Peixoto (@RenanPeixoto_) January 14, 2021

“People, I’m asking for your mercy. We are in a deplorable situation,” she says in the recording. She’s not named, but she’s reportedly a hospital psychologist.

“The oxygen has simply run out in an entire unit. We don’t have any oxygen and a lot of people are dying. If you have oxygen available, bring it here to the Urgent Care Unit of the Redenção polyclinic. My God, there are a lot of people dying.”

The video was one of dozens that went viral on Thursday across the country, as hospitals in Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, ran out of oxygen — endangering the lives of dozens, according to reports.

Related: Brazil weighs COVID-19 vaccines as its death toll climbs

In another video on social media, posted by a local journalist, retired nursing technician Solange Batista stands on the street in a burgundy face mask.

She says her sister’s blood oxygen level is below 60% and is on a manual respirator to survive. 

‘Não tem oxigênio. Minha irmã está sendo ambuzada para sobreviver (com respirador manual), com 60% de saturação. Não é só ela. Famílias estão comprando oxigênio. Um descaso. Em um hospital federal. Tanta gente morrendo por asfixia’
–Solange Batista, técnica de enfermagem#Manaus pic.twitter.com/uTpB1P3yWc

— Fernando Oliveira (@FernandoCesar) January 14, 2021

“Patients are having to buy oxygen,” she says. “This is neglect. Neglect. In a federal hospital, I have to buy oxygen for a patient? This is impossible.”

Family members of patients with COVID-19 have waited for hours in long lines to purchase oxygen tanks from private distributors in the city. At least one businessman has been jailed for hiding oxygen tanks in order to sell at elevated prices.

Meanwhile, more than 200 patients are being transferred to hospitals in six different states. Health Minister Eduaro Pazuello said Thursday night that along with the lack of oxygen, there were over 480 people on the waitlist for intensive care units throughout the city.

“First, we ran out of ventilators, then beds and finally, and the least expected, oxygen. I believe we were already expecting a high number of patients, but not as we are actually seeing in practice.”

André Basualto, doctor at a private hospital in Manaus

“First, we ran out of ventilators, then beds and finally, and the least expected, oxygen,” said André Basualto, a doctor at a private hospital there. “I believe we were already expecting a high number of patients, but not as we are actually seeing in practice.”

Related: Brazilians flock to the coast during the height of tourist season while coronavirus cases surge

But Basualto says the whole situation could have been avoided. He points to inadequate planning and crowded stores and malls at the end of the year that helped the virus to spread.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been alerting the population about the need for isolation and prevention, the use of masks and social distancing, however what we saw was a disregard by many and denialism regarding the imminent severity of the situation,” he said.

This is not the first time the pandemic has hit Manaus hard. The city was ground zero for COVID-19 in Brazil back in April. The images of coffins being buried in mass graves in the city was a terrifying metaphor for the toll that the coronavirus was taking on the country.

Those mass graves are back.

“I believe we are living our worst moment. Just to give you an idea, yesterday, we buried 176 people just in the city of Manaus. It’s a very serious situation.”

David Almeida, mayor, Manaus

“I believe we are living our worst moment,” Mayor David Almeida told Radio Gaucha earlier this week. “Just to give you an idea, yesterday, we buried 176 people just in the city of Manaus. It’s a very serious situation.”

Related: Black man’s death by security guards in Brazil sparks outrage, protests

Manaus is in a tough spot. First, it’s the only city in the state of Amazonas with ICU units. And that state is huge — roughly four times the size of Germany. This means that logistics and transportation are not easy.

Amid the oxygen shortage, many Brazilians took to social media with the word “lockdown.”

“It is past time for Brazil to have a serious lockdown. And a serious president too,”

Venezuela has responded to the #COVID19 health crisis in #Manaus & says it will help provide oxygen for the city’s hospitals. Foreign minister @jaarreaza tweeted last night & said he had spoken w/ the governor of the state of Amazonas. #Brazil https://t.co/IKBXNdIlq8

— Michael Fox (@mfox_us) January 15, 2021 “>one person tweeted.

They blame President Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters for demanding the end of social restrictions and tighter measures that could have prevented the chaos now unfolding.

Related: Bolsonaro loses big in Brazil’s local elections

Such measures were set to be in place in late 2020 before state Gov. Wilson Lima rolled them back under pressure from the business community. Lima has now suspended public transportation and instituted an overnight curfew. He has also requested air support from the United States to help ship oxygen tanks from elsewhere around Brazil.

The Brazilian military says it has already shipped 8 tons of hospital supplies and is preparing to send more.

Venezuela, which shares a border with the state of Amazonas, has also promised to send in oxygen.

The spike in cases in Manaus comes as the region enters its rainy flu season.

Venezuela has responded to the #COVID19 health crisis in #Manaus & says it will help provide oxygen for the city’s hospitals. Foreign minister @jaarreaza tweeted last night & said he had spoken w/ the governor of the state of Amazonas. #Brazil https://t.co/IKBXNdIlq8

— Michael Fox (@mfox_us) January 15, 2021

For cardiologist Marcio Bittencourt, Manaus is being hit by a perfect storm.

“On top of everything you have the seasonal period of greater respiratory infections, which comes with the rainy season that is beginning now in January,” Bittencourt said. “We have a new mutation of the virus with a new variant that apparently is more infectious. And we have a clear problem of structural logistics and administration, which makes the situation ever more critical.”

Bolsonaro’s ‘so what’ response to coronavirus deaths is the latest in his spiraling political crisis

Bolsonaro’s ‘so what’ response to coronavirus deaths is the latest in his spiraling political crisis

By
Michael Fox

Player utilities

download

Listen to the story.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro reacts while addressing the media during a news conference at the Planalto Palace in Brasília, Brazil, April 24, 2020.

Credit:

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters 

Share

On Tuesday night, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro met with reporters in Brasília. The country had surpassed China in the total number of deaths from the coronavirus and had just registered its highest death count in a 24-hour period: 474 people.

In China, 82,858 cases have been confirmed to date, with the official death toll at 4,633. As of Wednesday, Brazil has seen 74,493 infections and 5,158 deaths.

“So what? I’m sorry, what do you want me to do about it?” Bolsonaro said Tuesday.

His statement went viral, as did the response. Brazilians took to social media to attack the already embattled president.

“So what?” in portuguese “E daí ?”

said Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, about more than 5000 deaths by coronavirus. Confirmed deaths in Brazil today exceed China. pic.twitter.com/vQ4GDa3lEP

— Sheila de Carvalho (@she_carvalho) April 29, 2020

 

1/ “So what?” Jair Bolsonaro told reporters when asked about the record 474 deaths that day in Brazil. “I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?”
“E daí” https://t.co/cymzTkiVCi pic.twitter.com/hNXcoJIy4O

— Leticia Kawano-Dourado (@leticiakawano) April 29, 2020

 

Brazil: 5k dead. 500 in 24 hours.
70k confirmed cases. Some state health systems already collapsing.
Bolsonaro responds: “So what? I’m sorry. What do you want me to do? I’m a Messiah (Messias is one of his surnames), but I don’t do miracles.”…

— Daniel (@Daniel_IV_) April 28, 2020

Bolsonaro has fought hard against social restrictions in response to the coronavirus, attending rallies and demanding the economy be reopened. Two weeks ago, he forced out his health minister for vocally defending quarantine measures.

Brazilian President Bolsonaro greeted a few dozen supporters protesting quarantines in Brasilia today. He told them that 70% of the country was going to get sick sooner or later so everyone should just get back to work. #coronavirus #covid19 #Brazil pic.twitter.com/mMmfZR5Rsj

— Michael Fox (@mfox_us) April 18, 2020

This is only the latest as Bolsonaro wades through the worst political crisis of his administration — and the calls from Bolsonaro’s supporters for a return to military rule don’t help. 

Related: As the coronavirus drags on, Mexico’s food prices soar

On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered an inquiry into Bolsonaro’s alleged interference with police investigations for political gain. This case against him stems from allegations made by Bolsonaro’s former star Justice Minister Sérgio Moro’s resignation, who stepped down after the president fired federal police chief Maurício Valeixo.

“It’s clear that there was interference in the federal police,” Moro told reporters on Friday when he announced his resignation. “The president told me more than once that he wanted someone in direct contact with him. He wanted to be able to call someone. He wanted to be able to have access to information and intelligence reports.”

It’s widely held that Bolsonaro’s sudden interest in the federal police stems from his hope to block criminal inquiries into his three sons, who are under investigation for a series of crimes, including running a fake news scheme, money laundering and embezzlement.

According to the Supreme Court documents, there are seven accusations against the president, including malfeasance and obstruction of justice. The federal police now have 60 days to question Moro over the charges. If confirmed, Congress could begin a process of impeachment.

So far, 31 requests for impeachment have been submitted to Lower House Speaker Rodrigo Maia, including from members of Bolsonaro’s previous allies. But Maia has so far said impeachment is not the priority amid the coronavirus crisis.

Regardless, the turmoil isn’t likely to encourage the president to change his tone.

“Bolsonarism is a political ideology that depends on enemies. If they don’t exist, the president has to invent them every couple of days. In order to justify his behavior and mobilize his followers, he consistently needs new enemies and traitors.”

Maurício Santoro, Rio de Janeiro State University

“Bolsonarism is a political ideology that depends on enemies. If they don’t exist, the president has to invent them every couple of days,” said Maurício Santoro, a political scientist at the Rio de Janeiro State University. “In order to justify his behavior and mobilize his followers, he consistently needs new enemies and traitors.”

Related: Advocates raise alarm as countries fail to collect racial data of coronavirus patients

This was again overtly clear when Bolsonaro ignored quarantine measures a week and a half ago and participated in a rally in front of the army headquarters.

AI-5 has been trending all day in #Brazil.

AI-5 was the 1968 dictatorship decree, which suspended Congress, habeas corpus, etc.

It’s essentially what Bolsonaro’s supporters called for today @ a rally in Brasilia attended by the president.@LemusteleSURpic.twitter.com/jLSXY6UypC

— Michael Fox (@mfox_us) April 20, 2020

A few hundred of his supporters protested social restrictions and called for a return to the dictatorship and the disbanding of Congress and the Supreme Court — claiming that these institutions are actively working against the president.

“Now, the people are in power,” Bolsonaro told the crowd. “More than a right, you have the obligation of fighting for your country.”

Calls demanding military intervention aren’t new in Brazil, but Bolsonaro’s presence at the rally was a disturbing sign.

Bolsonaro is a former military captain who has praised known torturers and the military regime that controlled Brazil from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. He has more military officials in his government than any since the end of the dictatorship — a third of his cabinet members, including his vice president and chief of staff — have military backgrounds.

Related: Bolsonaro’s denial of coronavirus puts the country at risk

“There is much to be concerned about. There is always a type of military threat hanging over the heads of the Brazilian people. So, you live in a state of permanent siege.”

Emiliano Jose, retired journalism professor

“There is much to be concerned about. There is always a type of military threat hanging over the heads of the Brazilian people,” said Emiliano Jose, a retired journalism professor, who was detained and tortured for many years under a dictatorship in Brazil. “So, you live in a state of permanent siege.”

The Brazilian dictatorship was a brutal period. Hundreds of people were disappeared. Thousands were imprisoned. Roughly 30,000 were tortured, according to a 2007 report from a government commission investigating state crimes.

In Brazil, the threat of military rule is never far from sight. On the night Bolsonaro won the October 2018 presidential elections, gun-wielding soldiers in fatigues celebrated by riding through the streets of Niterói on top of a procession of military transport vehicles.

Last October, the president’s son, congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, told a reporter that if leftist Brazilians hit the streets in mass protests, the government would have to sink the country into a dictatorship, suspending habeas corpus and the rule of law.

This rhetoric actually goes over well with Bolsonaro’s supporters, many of whom look back on the military regime with nostalgia for what they call order and progress.

On the heels of military rule, truth commissions revealed the horrors of the past, but no one has ever been held responsible.

Related: Bolsonaro is still downplaying the coronavirus. Many worry about the impact on the most vulnerable.

Federal University of Santa Catarina Historian Cristina Wolff says this failure to confront Brazil’s dark history is key to understanding why many still feel empowered to demand its return.

“I do believe that this issue of never holding anyone accountable for the crimes of the dictatorship makes a big difference. Because in Argentina, where torturers were brought to justice, people could watch the trials on TV. The press covered it. So, the people had to remember.”

Cristina Wolff, Federal University of Santa Catarina

“I do believe that this issue of never holding anyone accountable for the crimes of the dictatorship makes a big difference,” she said. “Because in Argentina, where torturers were brought to justice, people could watch the trials on TV. The press covered it. So, the people had to remember.”

We are not likely to see tanks rolling on the streets in the coming days. But the strength of the military is expected to grow inside Bolsonaro’s government as it descends into deeper turmoil and attempts to battle the growing financial, political and health crises.

That, more than anything else, may be driving Bolsonaro’s rhetoric these days.