Article: Do You Know Where Manaus is?

The lung of the planet cannot breathe

Burials at Nossa Senhora Aparecida Cemetery. (Photo by Alex Pazuello/Semcom)

Manaus is the capital of the State of Amazonas, in Brazil. You have certainly heard about the Amazon Forest, thus you will soon discover Manaus. However, it is not the forest that has been in the news in recent days. The state of Amazonas, which was widely known as the “lung of the planet”, now sees its city, Manaus, without air. Literally without oxygen to breathe. The second wave of the COVID-19 epidemic hit the residents of the state. A repetition of errors, since in the first wave, was also the most suffering state in the country.

Let us review some basic data to understand this drama. Brazil has 26 states plus the Federal District, Brasília. Amazonas is the largest state in the federation with 1,559,167.889 km² of territory, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). It is 18.31% of the national territory. If it were a country, Amazonas would occupy the 19th position in the ranking of the largest countries in the world. Despite all this size, the total population is estimated at 4,207,714 people according to IBGE, which corresponds to 2% of the Brazilian population. Out of this total, 2,219,580 people live in the capital, Manaus, which concentrates 64% of the state’s population. The Amazon basin is the largest hydrographic basin in the world, being the state responsible for the highest concentration of the Amazon Forest, so its transport network mainly passes through river transport. It is also worth mentioning that the distance between Manaus and the country’s capital, Brasilia, is 1936 km. If we consider São Paulo, the distance is 2693 km.

Manaus city center. (Photo by Ivo Brasil/Pexels)

On the COVID-19 pandemic, scholars predicted the difficulty of coping in the state. Its regional dynamics make access to healthcare difficult. There are kilometres of rivers that connect the cities. Manaus Mayor David Almeida recently declared “We have no roads. Our geographic isolation is a death sentence”.

Amazonas recorded on 12 January 2021, the moving average of 1,887 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The record is 85.3% higher than that recorded on January 5, days earlier, at 1,018. The state suffers from overcrowding in the health system and faces a crisis due to the lack of oxygen for treating patients.

Until then, the highest moving average recorded by the Health Surveillance Foundation of Amazonas had been on 29 May 2020, with 1,693. With the increase in cases, the moving average on January 12 this year is 11.45% higher compared to this number. Until 14 January, Amazonas registered 223,360 confirmed cases of the disease, in addition to 5,930 deaths. In the capital, there are 93,977 cases and 3,892 deaths.

Given these figures, the state’s health structure collapsed. The lack of ICUs in the interior cities overcrowded the capital. Still, in 2020, the scenes of graves opened in the ground due to the lack of places in cemeteries traversed the world. In 2021 another blow: hospitals lack oxygen in the entire network of Manaus. The dramatic situation experienced in hospitals shocked the country, patients were dying of asphyxiation, while family members and doctors were running in search of donations of oxygen cylinders.

To supply both public and private hospitals, the three local oxygen supply companies — White Martins, Carbox and Nitron — needed to deliver 76,500 m³ daily, said the government of Amazonas. However, the companies’ delivery capacity has only been 28,200 m³/day.

Faced with chaos, governors from other states made those states available to receive patients. An initiative that could be practical, were it not for the exceptional conditions of transport in the region and the fact that the other Brazilian states also do not support all the need. The artistic class has been campaigning, as well as the Brazilians in their country and around the world.

After much popular pressure, the country’s health minister, army general Eduardo Pazuello, was in Manaus and announced “Operation Oxygen”, which provides for the opening of new beds in hospitals and sending oxygen cylinders by aeroplanes of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB). Across the state of Amazonas, the record number of deaths from COVID-19 in one day was 102 deaths on 6 May. Another peak of deaths was on 6 January 2021, adding up to 86. The state that suffered the most from the first wave of the pandemic, was the first to repeat errors this second. Manaus is currently the focus of relief efforts in the country.



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Vivianne Chagas

Vivianne Chagas


Journalist, Master's student in Political Science and International Relations, specializing in Public Security and always looking for new stories.