Brazil Covid oxygen supplies at 'worrying' levels

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In this photo taken on February 02, 2021 Dilza Maria Pereira Rodrigues, 71, receives treatment for Covid-19 at her home in Manaus, Brazil

Supplies of medical oxygen for Covid-19 patients have fallen to "worrying" levels in six of Brazil's 27 states, officials said Tuesday amid a deadly explosion of cases.

The prosecutor general's office said the health ministry had warned about oxygen levels in the six states during a crisis response meeting with suppliers.

One of Brazil's main oxygen suppliers, the company White Martins, said it was racing to keep up with an "exponential increase" in demand of up to 300 percent in some regions, prosecutors said in a statement.

The situation has raised fears of a repeat of horrific scenes in the northern city of Manaus in January, when oxygen shortages left dozens of Covid-19 patients to suffocate to death when hospitals ran out.

Other states are now showing warning signs.

Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous state and industrial hub, said Monday it would set up an emergency oxygen plant within 10 days with brewing company Ambev to supply overstretched hospitals.

The state, population 46 million, has been hit hard by the new wave of Covid-19.

Globo TV reported last week that at least 135 people had died in Sao Paulo waiting in line for intensive care beds with confirmed or suspected cases of the virus.

In Brasilia, more than 400 people are currently waiting in line for ICU beds. Videos circulating online show bodies piled in hospital corridors awaiting transfer to the capital's overflowing morgues.

The six states whose oxygen supplies are the most critical are Acre and Rondonia in the northwest, Mato Grosso in the center-west, Amapa in the north, and Ceara and Rio Grande do Norte in the northeast, prosecutors said.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has defied expert advice on containing the virus, is facing mounting pressure to revamp his response to the crisis.

Brazil's average daily Covid-19 death toll has more than tripled since the start of the year, to 2,306, currently the highest worldwide.

Experts say the surge is being fueled by a local variant of the virus that is suspected to be more contagious.

More than 295,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil, second only to the United States.