No bottled O2 until further notice: Mexico City Covid patients’ dilemma

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Dec 23 (efe-epa).- The sign reading “No oxygen available” is being seen more and more frequently hanging on the doors of establishments selling medical equipment in Mexico City, where hospitals are rapidly filling and many people with sick relatives at home must look high and low for medical oxygen tanks.

Two days ago, at a store in the central Roma neighborhood, there was a line dozens of people long waiting to refill their tanks. Today, there’s practically nobody there. “We have no oxygen until further notice,” the door guard tells everyone who arrives with their oxygen tanks, making the trek from store to store to find someplace where they can refill them.

One of those people is Roberto Perez, who came to the store hoping to find oxygen to refill his portable tank because none of the stores in the northern part of the capital – where he lives – had any.

“Here, it’s open 24 hours a day. You’d think that here they’d have to have it, but there isn’t any. I’ve got to look elsewhere,” he told EFE, adding that the last time he was able to get a tank refill was on Sunday.

“It’s for a relative. Unfortunately, he got Covid and I’ve got to find oxygen for him,” Perez said regarding the 60-year-old sick relative, whose blood oxygen level is just 65 percent, when it should be above 95 percent.

Perez’s family cannot afford to buy an oxygen concentrator, an apparatus that costs 30,000 pesos ($1,500) and draws oxygen from the air on an ongoing basis, and they have opted for “palliative” care by using a small O2 tank, which – needless to say – requires regular refills.

Because of the high demand these days, 680-liter tanks, which last about four hours during uninterrupted use, have also gone up in price from about 3,000 pesos ($150) to 4,000 pesos ($200).

Recharging the tanks, when oxygen can be found somewhere, costs between 120-200 pesos ($6-$10).

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said last Sunday that “there’s no lack of tanks” in the capital, adding that there is the “the possibility of signing up with the city government” for the equipment.

“There’s no need for panic. There’s no problem, … we’re resolving it,” she said.

But it’s quite true that Mexico City is going through a critical period in the Covid-19 pandemic, with a record hospital bed occupation rate of 80 percent, a situation that has forced the entire non-essential economy to shut down amid the Christmas holidays, normally a peak business time.

Just as many sick people are going from hospital to hospital looking for an empty bed, the relatives of many coronavirus victims are anxiously going from store to store to find oxygen for their suffering loved ones.

“The lines are (incredible). Everyone is asking the same thing that you are and we can’t do anything more … It’s all out, it doesn’t matter what company, it’s not up to us. There’s no more oxygen,” the manager of a store told a customer, adding that she didn’t know when she’d have more medical O2 to sell.

“All of last week and this one there’s been no oxygen. (They’re telling me) that there is none … until further notice. I come back and come back and they can’t supply it,” Gloria Guzman, a housemaid who was sent out by the lady of the house where she works to find oxygen.

Her employer, who is 84, has emphysema and has needed oxygen day and night for the past seven years. But this kind of scarcity had not been experienced until the pandemic.

“Right now I have to settle her down a bit so that she doesn’t get tachycardia,” said Gloria about the periods when her employer has to go without oxygen.

Having suffered 1.3 million confirmed cases and 119,000 deaths, Mexico is in fourth place in terms of its coronavirus toll, although on Wednesday a bit of hope emerged with the arrival of the first Pfizer vaccine doses.


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