A shortage of oxygen tanks in the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas pushed the health care system to the brink of collapse this week as hospitals turned away sick people and officials scrambled to transport critically ill coronavirus patients to other states.
The state’s governor, Wilson Lima, said that Amazonas, which grappled with a high number of cases and deaths in May, was in the grip of a more serious second wave.
“We are in a state of war,” he said on Thursday. “We face many difficulties in obtaining supplies. Our main difficulty has been in acquiring oxygen.”
Oxygen consumption has risen because of the rapid increase in patients who require hospitalization. Almost 220,000 people have been infected and 5,879 have died from the virus in the state. With more than 8.6 million cases and 206,000 deaths, Brazil has had one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
Dramatic reports from relatives of patients and health professionals shared on social media and in local press reports on Thursday provided glimpses into the anguish of relatives of Covid-19 patients and overwhelmed health care workers.
Jesem Orellana, a researcher at the medical research institute Fiocruz-Amazônia, told Folha de São Paulo that he had received upsetting videos and audio recordings from his peers.
“It leaves the impression that an entire ward of patients died due to a lack of oxygen,” he said.
Other Brazilians, such as Thalita Rocha, a psychologist who was with her mother-in-law at the polyclinic Dr. Jose Lins, in Manaus, took to social media, pleading for oxygen donations. “Whoever has oxygen availability, bring it here to the polyclinic. Many people are dying,” she said. “We are in a deplorable situation.”
The crisis occurred after demand for oxygen soared above last year’s peak, in March, when daily consumption averaged 30,000 cubic meters. Currently, the demand exceeds 70,000 cubic meters.
“This is two and a half times higher than last year’s peak,” said Marcellus Campêlo, the secretary of health in Amazonas. “We made a contingency plan considering the increase in cases, but the high demand surprised us.”
Over the weekend, the Brazilian Armed Forces began transporting oxygen cylinders from companies based in São Paulo and Fortaleza to Manaus to alleviate the crisis, but officials are scrambling to procure more.
Mr. Lima on Thursday imposed a curfew in the city from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.