Brazil's government in denial over COVID-19 catastrophe

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Brazil’s healthcare system has been plunged into the most severe crisis in its history, with doctors overwhelmed and patients dying while they wait for intensive care beds as the country’s COVID-sceptic president, Jair Bolsonaro, continues to spurn calls for a lockdown that would save lives.

The Guardian reports that as the daily number of infections and deaths soared to new heights this week, researchers from Brazil’s leading healthcare institute, Fiocruz, said South America’s biggest country faced an unparalleled “catastrophe”.

COVID intensive care units in virtually all of Brazil’s 26 states and the federal district containing the capital, Brasília, are now either at, or perilously close to capacity, the institute said, warning: “The situation is absolutely critical.”

The Guardian reports that Brazil’s far-right leader and his allies continue to downplay an outbreak that has killed more than 287,000 people, the second highest number on Earth, and, partly as a result of the more contagious P1 variant, is now accelerating into by far its most deadly phase. “Our situation isn’t all that critical. Compared to other countries, it’s actually quite comfortable,” said Ricardo Barros, Bolsonaro’s leader in the lower house, on Wednesday as 2,798 fatalities and a record 90,830 new cases were reported.

But, The Guardian reports, interviews with intensive care physicians in four of the worst-hit states – Mato Grosso do Sul, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo – gave the lie to that claim. “Things are desperate,” said Hermeto Paschoalick, the head of critical care unit in the midwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul where such facilities were this week 93% full.

In the state capital, Campo Grande, things were worse still. “I was told yesterday that there’s a health clinic there with 20 ambulances parked outside. The patients are arriving from small towns in the interior and there’s nowhere to put them – so they just keep them in the ambulances,” Paschoalick said. One private hospital had closed its doors because even its casualty department was packed with COVID patients on ventilators.

Danilo Maksud, a cardiologist from São Paulo, said Brazil’s richest and most populous state – where ICUs were 89% full with more than 11,000 COVID patients – was in similarly dire straits. “It’s not chaos – we’re well beyond chaos,” admitted the 39-year-old physician who said all 20 of his ICU beds were occupied after a month-long surge in admissions.

The Guardian reports that Maksud suggested a “complete lockdown” was probably the only way to stop the virus’s rampage, although Bolsonaro has resisted that idea, apparently fearful of the impact it might have on the economy and his hopes of re-election next year. With 212m citizens, Brazil is home to 2.7% of the world’s population but has suffered more than 10% of its COVID deaths.

A thousand miles away, in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, where ICUs were 96% full, the story was the same, with COVID pounding virtually the whole country simultaneously.

“People are going around saying Brazil is going to collapse,” critical care doctor Pedro Carvalho said on Thursday morning as he began another 12-hour shift at a university hospital in the riverside town of Petrolina. “But we’ve collapsed already – completely collapsed,” claimed Carvalho, 41, whose hospital added 10 new ICU beds on Monday morning and had filled them all by sundown.

The Guardian reports that the doctor rubbished claims from Bolsonaro’s ally that Brazilian hospitals were feeling comfortable. “Calling it fake news would be too kind. It’s just an utter lie. They know full well how bad things are,” Carvalho complained.

André Machado, a COVID doctor from Rio Grande do Sul state, where critical care units are 100% full, said his hospital was so overburdened he was having to choose who would be given the chance of survival in intensive care. “Today, 49 patients are in the A&E waiting for a bed in ICU,” he said. There was only space for four.

 

Full report in The Guardian (Open access)

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