Reeling again from COVID-19, Amazonas gets respirators, oxygen from Brazil Air Force and Venezuela

Relatives of patients hospitalised or receiving healthcare at home, mostly suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), gather to buy oxygen and fill cylinders at a private company in Manaus, Brazil January 16, 2021. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

MANAUS/BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian jungle state of Amazonas received more emergency supplies of oxygen and respirators on Saturday, as the military and neighboring Venezuela scrambled to alleviate an unfolding humanitarian crisis caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Air Force also said it had evacuated 12 patients from hospitals in the state capital Manaus to the northern city of Sao Luis overnight, with hospitals at breaking point with no oxygen supplies and overflowing intensive care wards.

Mass graves were dug in Manaus during the first wave of the pandemic last year. Harrowing scenes are again emerging in the second wave, of doctors and relatives running out of supplies and equipment while trying desperately to keep patients alive.

Brazil's Air Force said on Saturday a second flight had landed in Manaus with eight tanks of liquid oxygen, following an earlier emergency delivery of five tanks, and the Navy said in a statement that it is sending 40 respirators.

Venezuela, meanwhile, said it has sent the first batch of oxygen supplies on the 1,500-km (930-mile) road trip to Amazonas, which should arrive in Manaus on Sunday.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the Venezuelan government "will supply oxygen for the duration of the emergency situation in the state of Amazonas".

As well as the snowballing second wave of the virus, Brazil is now also dealing with a new, potentially more contagious, coronavirus variant that originated in Amazonas and prompted Britain on Thursday to bar entry to Brazilians.

The government of President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain and COVID skeptic, has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the crisis and its failure so far to roll out a vaccination program.

Brazil on Saturday reported over 1,000 virus-related deaths for the fifth day in a row.

Bolsonaro and his government have called for "early treatment" of COVID-19 symptoms as part of a campaign to promote the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, despite studies discrediting such a treatment.

Social media platform Twitter on Saturday warned the health ministry that a tweet last week advising people worried about symptoms to start "early treatment" violated its rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful misinformation about the virus.

"However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the Tweet to remain accessible," the warning said.

(Reporting by Bruno Kelly in Manaus, Ricardo Brito and Jamie McGeever in Brasilia, and Luc Cohen in Caracas; Editing by Alistair Bell and Sonya Hepinstall)

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