Emergency oxygen supplies are being flown into a part of Brazil devastated by a rampant new strain of coronavirus.
Patients have been left suffocating in hospitals as oxygen runs low in Manaus, the capital city of Amazonas, after the new Covid variant in Brazil resulted in a huge surge in patients.
The worrying new variant of Covid, that prompted Boris Johnson to ban travel from South America, is thought to have originated in Amazonas.
And the horrific scenes in Brazil make that decision easy to understand, as the UK battles with its own new variant of the disease.
Desperate relatives, protesting outside hospitals in the state capital of Manaus, said patients had been taken off ventilators as oxygen ran out.
Health authorities there 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.
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Jessem Orellana, from the Fiocruz-Amazonia scientific investigation institute, told the AFP news agency that some hospitals in Manaus had “run out of oxygen” with some centres becoming “a type of suffocation chamber” for patients.
Doctors reported sharing oxygen between patients, alternating every 10 minutes.
The Air Force flew cylinders with 9,300 kilograms of oxygen in from Sao Paulo state with another cargo expected on Friday.
Officials had planned to airlift 61 premature babies in incubators out of Manaus, but the relocation ultimately was not needed because emergency oxygen supplies were procured.
The World Health Organization said ICU occupancy has been 100% full for two weeks in Manaus, causing shortages of oxygen and also of gloves and protective equipment for medical and laboratory staff, many of whom have been infected.
“This a situation where your whole system begins to implode,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, told a press conference in Geneva.
Brazil has the world’s second highest COVID-19 death toll after the United States.
There are ongoing protests across the country against right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, who has consistently downplayed Covid throughout the pandemic.
The UK went even further on Friday, scrapping travel corridors with every country in the world, to reduce the risk of any future Covid variants being imported.
There are concerns that the Covid vaccines will be less effective against the new variants in Brazil and South Africa.