MANAUS, BRAZIL (REUTERS) – Brazil’s Air Force delivered emergency supplies of oxygen on Friday (Jan 15) to the jungle state of Amazonas, where hospitals overwhelmed by resurging coronavirus cases were airlifting patients to other states to save them from dying of suffocation.
Brazil has the world’s worst Covid-19 death toll outside the United States, and Manaus was one of the first Brazilian cities struck by a spiraling death count and case load from the first wave of the pandemic last year.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the pandemic and opposed stricter social controls to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, said on Friday the government had already done what it could in Manaus.
“The problem is terrible there. Now, we have done our part,” he told supporters outside the presidential palace, adding that the military was installing a temporary hospital.
A new variant of the virus, sharing characteristics with other highly infectious variants, has been discovered in Amazonas, although the Pan American Health Organisation says it is too soon to say if that is causing the surge.
The United Kingdom will ban arrivals from Brazil and other South American countries over concerns about the new variant, which was first detected in travellers from Amazonas state to Japan, British officials said on Thursday.
With emergency services pushed to a breaking point, Amazonas Governor Nelson Lima announced a 7pm to 6am statewide curfew to fight the spread of coronavirus.
Health authorities said oxygen supplies had run out at some hospitals and intensive care wards were so full that scores of patients were being airlifted to other states.
The Air Force flew six cylinders with 9,300 kilograms of oxygen from São Paulo state to Amazonas state capital Manaus in northern Brazil, where it will be distributed to hospitals, according to a statement from the military. Another cargo is being loaded in São Paulo on Friday, destined for Manaus.
The Air Force said a flight carried nine patients and five doctors from Manaus to Teresina in northeastern Brazil, and evacuations will continue with two planes taking patients to six cities.
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