Brazil Hospitals Face Pressure as Coronavirus Variant Spreads

11 March 2021

Many of Brazil's hospitals face severe overcrowding as another version, or variant, of the new coronavirus spreads in the country.

Over the past week, Brazilian governors have tried to persuade President Jair Bolsonaro to offer a plan for states to slow the nation's COVID-19 outbreak. The plan was to include a curfew, a ban on crowded events and limits on non-necessary services. Bolsonaro has rejected such plans.

The result of the effort, presented Wednesday, was a one-page document urging support for restricting activity, but not providing specific measures. Six governors chose not to support the document.

Piaui state's Governor Wellington Dias told The Associated Press the pressure on hospitals must be eased. He said a growing numbers of patients will have to face COVID-19 without a hospital bed or any hope of treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU).

A health worker stands in front of an empty oxygen tank station, the only station at Joventina Dias Hospital, a small clinic in Manaus, Brazil.
A health worker stands in front of an empty oxygen tank station, the only station at Joventina Dias Hospital, a small clinic in Manaus, Brazil.

"We have reached the limit across Brazil; rare are the exceptions," said Dias, who leads the governors' group. "The chance of dying without assistance is real."

In Brazil's southern Sao Paulo state, at least 30 patients died this month while waiting for ICU beds. That report was published Wednesday by the news site G1. In Santa Catarina state, also in the south, 419 people were waiting to be moved to ICU beds. In neighboring Rio Grande do Sul, health officials said the ICU capacity is at 106 percent.

Alexandre Zavascki is a doctor in Rio Grande do Sul's capital, Porto Alegre. He described a continuous flow of hospital patients who arrive struggling to breathe. "I have a lot of (co-workers) who, at times, stop to cry. This isn't medicine we're used to performing routinely. This is medicine adapted for a war," Zavascki said.

He said much of the public is not recognizing the seriousness of the current virus spread. "We see a good part of the population refusing to see what's happening, resisting the facts. Those people could be next to step inside the hospital and will want beds. But there won't be one."

Zavascki called for the government to enact "more rigid measures."

Last year, the Supreme Court – over the president's objections – upheld the right of cities and states to put restrictions on public activities. Bolsonaro condemned restrictions, saying the economy needed to keep running and that keeping people apart would cause problems.

The most recent virus spread appears to be caused by the P1 variant. Brazil's health minister said last month that it is three times as transmissible as the first coronavirus version. It is believed to have started spreading in the Amazonian city Manaus in January.

Last week, Brazil reported more than 10,000 deaths. That is the highest number since the coronavirus health crisis began. The failure to slow the spread of the virus is a concern. The director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke about the situation.

"In the whole country, aggressive use of the public health measures, social measures, will be very, very crucial," he said in a press briefing last Friday.

Brazil has experience with mass vaccination campaigns. But COVID-19 vaccines have faced delays. Only 5.5 percent of the population has been vaccinated so far.

Brazil's national council of state health secretaries last week called for the establishment of a national curfew. It also suggested ordering people to remain in their homes in areas facing overcrowded hospitals.

Bolsonaro has resisted such measures. "I won't decree it," he said during an event Monday. "And you can be sure of one thing: My army will not go to the streets" to enforce stay-at-home orders.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

specific –adj. special or particular

adapt v. to change to become suitable for a new situation

rigid – adj. not able to be easily changed

isolatev. to put or keep (someone or something) in a place or situation that is separate from others

transmissible adj. able to be transmitted, or spread

crucial – adj. extremely important or necessary

decree – v. officially order something