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Signs of collapse abound in Brazil


“You have to be an engineer to make this work,” he says. “You have to be like MacGyver.”

The video moves past a woman on oxygen, the tube running down from her nose to the gurney she’s sitting on and, eventually, out that open window.

It runs to another window, the green tube swinging in the breeze above an open courtyard a half-dozen stories below. The tube ends at an oxygen hookup in the wall of the other room.

This is the only way that woman, a Covid-19 patient at this hospital in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, can get oxygen. The room where the oxygen source is located is so overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, she has to sit in what is otherwise a hallway, her life-saving oxygen precariously fed to her.

The scene is a microcosm of what is playing out across Brazil right now amid a brutal and out-of-control wave of Covid-19.

On Thursday night, Brazil’s Health Ministry reported the gruesome figure of more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases confirmed in a single day, the country’s highest such figure since the pandemic began.

So far, a total of 303,462 people have died in the country from the virus, according to official data.

But it’s the seven-day averages that paint an even bleaker picture.

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At 15,963 deaths from March 19-25 and 14,610 deaths in the previous week, those are the highest such numbers of the pandemic so far and they are trending in the wrong direction.

Brazil has recorded roughly 24% of all coronavirus deaths worldwide over the past two weeks, according to JHU data.

A Covid-19 variant, P1, continues to rip through the country as experts agree it is more contagious and potentially produces more severe illness than previous strains. Even younger people are not spared.

Of Brazil’s 26 states plus its federal district, only one or two on any given day have ICU occupancy rates below 80%.

More than half are above 90%, which means if the healthcare systems haven’t yet collapsed already in those states, they are at imminent risk of doing so.

Health systems have been inundated with patients they can no longer adequately take care of due to a critical lack of space and supplies.

As Brazil suffers through its worst days of this pandemic so far, there are signs of collapse at every level of the healthcare system in nearly every state across the country.

Signs of collapse

First responders, hospital personnel and even cemetery employees have told CNN they’ve been brought to their knees by this latest wave.

“It’s a war scenario,” said paramedic Luis Eduardo Pimentel in São Paulo. “I can barely describe what I’m seeing, it is so sad what is happening to the country.”

He described non-stop Covid-19 calls, unnecessary deaths, and hospitals so overburdened, they take supplies from wherever they can.

CNN spoke to him after his shift ended, earlier than expected, after a hospital took the gurney he had brought his Covid-19 patient in on — the hospital had run out of beds.

Other examples are myriad.

In a video given to CNN last week, 12 ambulances with patients inside are seen waiting outside a São Paulo hospital for bedspace to open up inside.

CNN visited a Covid-19-designated hospital on Thursday that had stopped accepting patients because they had run out of room. In a section normally reserved for 16 semi-intensive care patients, nearly double that amount were being treated.

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Several had already been intubated and would normally have sent to an ICU, but no such space existed in the hospital.

When ICU rates hit 90%, as they did in Sao Paulo on Thursday, they’re effectively full, said Geraldo Reple Sobrinho, the state’s President of the Council of Municipal Health Secretaries. “In reality, that means total bed occupancy because every time there is a patient who is discharged or dies, you need time to clean this bed and change the equipment. It takes four, five hours.”

In the meantime, more and more patients keep dying. On several recent days, there have been so many deaths that burials in São Paulo cemeteries are happening every few minutes.

Crematoriums have not been able to keep up. In a video shared with CNN, at least two dozen coffins can be seen waiting to be cremated — the demand is about three times what the facility can handle in a single day.

The government response … or lack of it

As his country has reeled during this latest outbreak, President Jair Bolsonaro has yet to take any significant steps to try and implement a coordinated national response.

He did deliver a televised address to the country on Tuesday night, saying 2021 would be the “year of the vaccine.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gives a press conference at the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia on March 24.

But critics derided the 3-minute speech as a half-hearted attempt at a public-relations rescue on a day where Brazil set its own record for most coronavirus deaths recorded in a single day.

The federal government appeared to commit another own goal the following day, with the Health Ministry announcing that it would require more information from municipalities reporting Covid-19 victim information.

That sparked immediate concern that the additional requirements would lower the number of Covid-19 deaths that were reported.

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Those concerns appeared to be immediately justified as Wednesday’s reported death toll was nearly 1,200 fewer than the previous day.

By the end of the day Wednesday, the Health Ministry suspended the new reporting requirements after severe backlash from states and the public.

Absent a coordinated federal response, any restrictions put in place designed to stem the spread of the virus have been left to individual states.

Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais are among the states that have implemented nightly curfews, even as the Bolsonaro administration filed suit in Brazil’s Supreme Court declaring that only the federal government has the right to impose such restrictions.

The court this week sided with the states, however, calling Bolsonaro’s argument “totalitarian.”

CNN’s Natalie Gallón, journalists Marcia Reverdosa and Eduardo Duwe and CNN’s Kara Fox contributed to this report.

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