Hospitals in the Brazilian city of Manaus have reached breaking point while treating Covid-19 patients, with reports of severe oxygen shortages and desperate staff.
The jungle city, in Amazonas state, is experiencing a massive surge in infections and deaths.
Health professionals quoted by local media are warning that “many people” could die without new supplies and more assistance.
Amazonas suffered heavy losses in the first wave of the pandemic and is now being battered by a new storm of infections.
Last week, as refrigerated containers to store bodies in were being stacked up outside hospitals, the authorities declared a state of emergency.
Jessem Orellana, from the Fiocruz-Amazonia scientific investigation institute, told media outlets that some hospitals in Manaus had “already run out of oxygen” with some ICUs becoming “a type of suffocation chamber” for patients.
Reports in the daily Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper describe desperate staff having to try to keep patients alive through manual ventilation.
Amazonas Governor Wilson Lima said the state was “in the most critical moment of the pandemic” and has announced a nightly curfew from Friday to try to stem the spread.
Marcellus Campelo, a local health secretary, appealed for help, saying the state needed three times the amount of oxygen it can produce locally.
Brazil’s vice-president shared images on Twitter of the air force transporting hospital supplies, including oxygen cylinders, to the city as reports of the situation spread across the country.
Health officials say some patients will be airlifted to other states for treatment in intensive care units, Reuters reports.
The distressing accounts come amid fears about a new coronavirus variant found in several travellers arriving in Japan from the Amazonas region.
Felipe Naveca, deputy director of research at the state-run Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, told the BBC’s South America correspondent that the new variant had evolved separately from other variants discovered in the UK and South Africa, but that it shared some of the same characteristics.
“Some of these mutations have been linked to increased transmission and that is of concern,” he said. “We do not yet have any data to suggest that existing vaccines would be less effective against the new variant. We have to do a lot more sequencing of samples to answer that question.”
However, due to the new strain, on Thursday UK officials announced a ban on travellers from all South American countries, plus Portugal and Cape Verde which both have strong links to Brazil. Spain may also be banned due to its South American connections.
Brazil has recorded more than 205,000 virus deaths – the second-highest tally in the world, behind only the US.