Mass graves, hospitals full: Virus-hit Brazilian city on verge of collapse

By Raphael Alves

Manaus, Brazil, Apr 22 (efe-epa).- In the largest cemetery in Manaus, they have begun burying coffins in mass graves. Enough funeral services cannot be held and public hospitals are being overwhelmed by the increase in the number of deaths and cases of Covid-19 in the state of Amazonas, one of Brazil’s regions hardest-hit by the pandemic.

Before the arrival of the coronavirus in Amazonia, Manaus averaged 20-35 burials per day, but now that number has tripled to about 100 per day, according to what Mayor Arthur Virgilio Neto, a former senator, told EFE.

Official figures indicate that 2,270 confirmed coronavirus cases have been detected and 193 people have died in Amazonas, but activities at the city’s largest cemetery provide evidence that the real numbers are much greater than what the regional government’s statistics show, the mayor himself said.

For days, gravedigging in the cemetery has been done with backhoes carving out trenches to accommodate the large number of coffins, while in local hospitals officials outfitted with white suits, facemasks and gloves endlessly transfer the bodies of deceased patients to refrigeration units for temporary storage.

As EFE witnessed, in just one hour at least five bodies were removed from the cold storage units set up near Joao Lucio Hospital, one of three medical facilities run by the state government, and were taken to the local cemetery.

The refrigerated storage units were set up recently after images were made public showing the inside of a hospital where Covid-19 patients were being attended to just a few feet from the corpses of those who had died.

“It’s a regrettable scene,” said the Manaus mayor, who warned that the capital of Amazonas finds itself in a situation of “public calamity.”

Therefore, Virgilio Neto has asked for help from European countries to save the state and its “main patrimony,” the Amazon jungle, which for months was the focus of international attention because of deforestation and massive forest fires.

“They can help with resources, with remittances of medicines, sending rapid testing kits, protection equipment, because many doctors are working without such equipment …” he said.

Virgilio Neto added that if the residents of Amazonas suffer and lose their incomes, “they’ll have no other alternative” than to exploit the resources of the tropical forest, as ultrarightist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, one of those most skeptical about the seriousness of the Covid-19 crisis, has said.

With 1.8 million residents, Manaus holds about half the population of the state of Amazonas, where distances between cities and towns are huge and where conditions are precarious, with barely any healthcare infrastructure.

“The cities in the interior of Amazonas have very few beds for serious cases, and so the majority have to go to Manaus. It’s a distressing scenario,” Fernando Merloto, a public prosecutor with the Federal Public Ministry in Amazonas state, told EFE.

The public health system is already in a state of collapse, according to the city mayor and the Attorney General’s Office, and the situation will probably get worse in the coming weeks, when the peak of the pandemic is expected in Brazil, where already there have been about 40,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 3,000 deaths.

Despite the dramatic situation in Amazonas due to the pandemic, the “state is overwhelmingly absent,” Luigi Fernandes, whose 67-year-old mother-in-law died two weeks ago from the coronavirus, told EFE.

Ester Melo was admitted to a medical center for shortness of breath, tested positive for Covid-19 and during the week she was being treated before dying her relatives were witnesses to an unending chain of negligence.

According to Fernandes, there was only one ventilator, the X-ray machine didn’t work, Melo was not transferred to an intensive care unit and relatives were forced to buy the medicines she needed themselves because the medical center had run out of them.

“We were witnesses to the absence of the state, to a total lack of organization,” said Fernandes, who said he intends to sue the Amazonas state government over its management of local hospitals during the pandemic.


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