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Brazil's Amazon region suffers deadly lack of oxygen supplies amid COVID pandemic

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By Daniel Bellamy  with AP
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Brazil's Amazon region suffers deadly lack of oxygen supplies amid COVID pandemic
Copyright  Edmar Barros/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Doctors in a Brazil city are grappling with a shortage of oxygen stocks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Manaus is an isolated city of two million people and it's difficult to import supplies.

The lack of supplemental oxygen is affecting COVID-19 patients and those that don't have the virus alike.

One of the cemeteries in Manaus saw mourners lining up to enter and bury their dead, as Brazilian artists, football clubs, and politicians used their platforms to appeal for help.

On Friday a Brazilian air force plane managed to deliver 6,000 litres of oxygen.

Despairing patients in overloaded hospitals waited as the supplies arrived just in time to save some, but too late for others.

The local government's oxygen provider, multinational White Martins, said in a statement that it was considering diverting some of its supply from neighbouring Venezuela. It wasn't immediately clear whether this would be sufficient to address the spiralling crisis.

"Yes, there is a collapse in the health care system in Manaus. The line for beds is growing by a lot - we have 480 people waiting now,'' Brazil's health minister Eduardo Pazuello said in a Thursday night broadcast on social media.

"We are starting to remove patients with less serious (conditions) to reduce the impact.''

Hospitals in Manaus have not admitted many new COVID-19 patients, suggesting many will suffer from the disease at home.

"My grandmother died today because of lack of oxygen," Mayline da Mata told the AP outside one Manaus hospital. "My grandmother, 84 years old, couldn't survive. She needed 15 litres per minute, and there wasn't enough."

Developing nations' medical facilities often lack the reliable supply of oxygen that's found in wealthy European countries and North America, where hospitals treat oxygen as a fundamental need and it is delivered in liquid form by tanker truck and piped directly to the beds of coronavirus patients.

The strain in Manaus prompted the state government to say it would transport 235 patients who were depending on oxygen but aren't in intensive care units to five other states and the federal capital, Brasilia.

Governors and mayors throughout the country offered help amid a flood of social media videos in which distraught relatives of COVID-19 patients in Manaus begged for people to buy them oxygen.

Federal prosecutors in the city, however, asked a local judge to pressure Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's administration to step up its support.

The prosecutors said later in the day that the main air force plane in the region for oxygen supply transportation "needs repair, which brought a halt to the emergency supplies".

"The problem in Manaus is terrible,'' Bolsonaro told supporters outside the presidential residence on Friday. "But we did our part, (with) resources, means."

He has downplayed the risks COVID-19 poses, saying the economic fallout from the pandemic will kill more than the virus.

The city's 14-day death toll is approaching the peak from last year's first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, according to official data.