Covid patients' families queue for 12 hours to get oxygen in Brazil

Relatives of stricken Covid patients in one of the hardest hit parts of Brazil have had to resort to queuing for up to 12 hours to buy their own oxygen supplies. 

‘Oxygen markets’ have been set up in Manaus, the region at the centre of the outbreak of a new hyper-infectious form of the virus.

Hospitals in the area have reached breaking point and are running out of oxygen due to the sheer number of patients affected by the second wave.

People are choosing to care for family members at home and buy their own medical supplies because of fears that relatives may not get the treatment they need in hospital. 

One man standing in the day-long queue for oxygen was Fernando Marcelino. ‘Everyone here has a family member being treated at home’, he said. ‘They prefer that to leaving them to die in the hospitals.’

The oxygen shortage has exacerbated the public health crisis in Manaus, which already was one of Brazil’s worst-hit cities during the pandemic’s first wave. 

The disease has killed more than 210,000 people throughout Brazil, making it the second worst affected country after the United States. 

Manaus is the second-worst-affected of 27 Brazilian states, with 149 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants over the course of the pandemic. In the city of 2.2 million, that figure shot up from 142 to 187 in recent days.

The central government has been criticised for its passive response to the crisis. It is now trying to increase oxygen shipments to Amazonas, which is connected to the rest of the country primarily by air and river. Patients have also been evacuated to other states for treatment. 

‘The oxygen is arriving, but we don’t know how long that will last for,’ said Mr Marcelino, who was wearing two masks, gloves and goggles.

An evangelical preacher, he found out about a company in the city’s industrial zone that sells oxygen to those with cylinders for 300-600 reales ($57-$114), depending on the size.

A 37-year-old man who didn’t give his name showed a video filmed in a public hospital where a family member is receiving treatment.

‘This is inhuman,’ he said at the sight of beds lined up in the corridors.

Even health care workers are afraid of being treated in hospital. Nurse Luciana Leal, 26, waited all day with her cylinder, still wearing her blue uniform.

She was eager to get a colleague out of the main specialist Covid-19 centre in Manaus.

‘She started showing symptoms during the week. We managed to stabilize her at home but our oxygen ran out and we had to take her to hospital,’ she said.

‘We’re afraid of contracting other infections, it’s safer at home because there are many bacteria and fungi in hospital.’

A 7pm nighttime curfew is in place in Brazil to stop the spread of the virus. But may decided to queue into the night to get their cylinders filled despite the risk of a fine.

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