Chaos in Amazonas

Government admits it knew of lack of oxygen eight days before collapse in Manaus

Attorney General told the Supreme Court that he was notified by suppliers on January 8th, claims to have done his best

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Hospitals service in the city of Manaus is collapsing due to a lack of oxygen - Michel Dantas/ AFP

The federal government said on Sunday, January 17th, through an official letter, that it was informed of the oxygen shortage in Manaus on January 8th, eight days before several municipal hospitals collapsed due to a lack of the life saving material on January 14th.

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The information is highlighted in official explanations sent by the Attorney General's Office (AGU), to the Federal Supreme Court (STF), at the request of Justice Ricardo Lewandowski.

According to the AGU, White Martins, a supplier of oxygen tanks in Manaus, the state capital of Amazonas, warned the state government on January 7th that "the unexpected increase in demand that has occurred in recent days has abruptly, and considerably worsened the situation." The following day, the Ministry of Health was notified by email.

Initially, the government's reaction was to announce an increase in oxygen supply by sending 350 cylinders to Manaus between January 8th and 10th. The government of Amazonas confirmed receiving 373 oxygen infusion pumps on January 11th, but reported that the amount was only sufficient for 70 of the 2,700 patients hospitalized with covid-19 in the state.

On the same day, three days before the collapse, Health Minister, Eduardo Pazuello, flew to Manaus. With hospitals almost at capacity and an increasing number of covid cases, he tried to be calm, talking about early treatment against the coronavirus (which according to scientists does not exist), and reassuring people that the ministry was prepared to meet “any demands at a minor, municipal or state level”.

Airforce aircraft

Despite his words, on January 14th, Pazuello admitted during a meeting with mayors, that there were no Brazilian Air Force (FAB) aircraft available to transport oxygen to Amazonas.

Confused, he changed his narrative the very same night on a live broadcast alongside President Jair Bolsonaro. On the occasion, he said that planes carrying oxygen were already on their way to Manaus, and that problems arose due to rains and the lack of early treatment against covid - again contrary to science.

In its justification to the Supreme Court, the Federal government also claimed that White Martins' warning came too late, and that federal agencies "used all possible means to overcome the situation".

The Attorney General's office also affirmed that it transferred "an extremely significant volume of strategic materials and financial resources" to the state of Amazonas, adding that "it never failed to keep communications open".

Transfers

Due to the oxygen shortage, the government of Amazonas said it had transferred 12 more hospitalized patients from Manaus to Natal, the state capital of Rio Grande do Norte, on Sunday night. As a result, the total number of patients transferred to other states is 74.

In addition to Natal, patients were taken to the cities of João Pessoa, Teresina, São Luís and Brasília. The Amazonas government expects to transfer 235 patients in all.

Edited by: Camila Maciel