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Brazil rushes to save premature babies as Covid-19 swamps Manaus hospitals


Authorities in the Brazilian Amazon are reportedly racing to save dozens of premature babies after a surge in coronavirus cases caused a catastrophic breakdown in the oxygen supply to hospitals and clinics.

On Friday CNN Brasil reported that the northern state of Amazonas was seeking to transfer at least 60 babies from neonatal units in its capital, Manaus, to hospitals elsewhere in the country.

The emergency request to other state governments came as Brazil’s air force began evacuating coronavirus patients from the riverside city after a deadly interruption in the oxygen supply on Thursday morning.

That outage – caused by a sudden jump in hospital admissions that meant oxygen demand dramatically outstripped supply – left doctors and nurses desperately battling to save Covid patients with manual ventilation. Those who could not be saved were reportedly given morphine and the sedative midazolam to reduce their suffering.

“This is an unprecedented calamity,” Jesem Orellana, a local epidemiologist, told the Guardian. “In the coming hours Manaus is going to be the protagonist of one of the saddest chapters of the Covid-19 epidemic in the world.”

Manaus was one of the worst-hit Latin American cities in the first wave of the epidemic last April, with authorities forced to dig mass graves. On Friday, there was growing anger at the state and federal governments for failing to avert or prepare for what medical professionals called a tragedy foretold.

Much of the indignation was directed at Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly downplayed the epidemic and undermined containment measures. Key Bolsonaro supporters, including his politician son Eduardo, had voiced support for protesters who took to the streets of Manaus last month and managed to overturn state government efforts to impose a lockdown.


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“Bolsonaro wants to turn Brazil into one big Manaus,” tweeted the leftwing politician Marcelo Freixo. “Our choice is between impeachment or more death.”

Pot-banging protests against Bolsonaro – the first in months – are planned for Friday night while activists in Brazil’s sixth biggest city, Belo Horizonte, are organizing a drive-by demonstration on Saturday. Brazil’s official death toll now stands at more than 207,000, second only to the US, with vaccination yet to begin.

Bolsonaro supporters sought to deflect blame for Manaus’s latest calamity on to the state government. They called for the impeachment of the Amazonas governor, an apparently out-of-favour Bolsonaro ally called Wilson Lima.

“It’s terrible the problem in Manaus,” Bolsonaro told supporters outside his residence in the capital, Brasília. “But we did our bit.”



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