Two weeks since Manaus hit the headlines for its tragic scenes of Covid casualties and dire oxygen shortages, gasworld understands the situation remains grave in the Brazilian city.

Mid-January saw widespread reports that hospitals in Manaus had reached ‘breaking point’ in their treatment of growing numbers of Covid-19 patients, as oxygen shortages took hold in the region.

The city, with a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, in Amazonas state and around 3,900km north of the city of Sao Paulo, was understood to be experiencing a surge in both infections and fatalities – and at the mercy of dwindling oxygen supply.

Read more: Manaus – Brazilian city in oxygen crisis

In the days and weeks since, various accounts have painted a picture similar to that of Peru in June last year, with concerned locals pictured queuing up at a local oxygen cylinder filling site and taking supply into their own hands.

gasworld understands that the crippling gaps on oxygen supply were bridged in the immediate aftermath of those worldwide reports in January, with the State of Amazonas healthy Authority (Secretaria de Saude) reporting that several emergency liquid oxygen shipments had arrived in Manaus, carrying significant volumes of product from different sources.

White Martins and the Federal Government sent several shipments by barge from the Port of Belen, located 1,600km east, near the Atlantic Ocean, while a donation of 135,000m2 of liquid oxygen was also received from the Venezuelan Government, by road.

Further still, the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) transported several small liquid ISO tanks, as well as cylinders and PSA oxygen plants to cover the needs in other locations.

IBG Map

Crisis ‘could have been prevented’

Beyond this emergency support, however, bigger questions have been raised in Brazil concerning contingency planning and the readiness of oxygen supplies to deal with such a public health crisis.

A judicial investigation was opened by the Ministerio Publico to determine the causes and consequences of the oxygen crisis, which resulted in the lack of oxygen in public and private hospitals in the city of Manaus and the state of Amazonas. It is understood that this investigation will seek to establish why, if the emergency situation was known before the 14th January crisis, measures were not taken in a timely fashion or were delayed.

This apparent lack of planning is the focus of comments from Newton de Oliveira, President of Sao Paulo-based IBG (Industria Brasileira de Gases Ltda), who told gasworld that such scenes in Manaus could have been prevented had there been more planning by the sector and the Government alike.

Further still, de Oliveira cites a lack of local communication prior to the crisis and the belief that similar crises could yet engulf other regions of Brazil if the same mistakes continue to be made and logistical challenges are not adequately overcome.

IBG provided one of the ISO containers with liquid oxygen that was sent to Manuas as part of the emergency efforts, as well as around 2,000 medical oxygen cylinders, and de Oliveira said, “The situation in the health system in Amazon State is critical, caused by the lack of oxygen to treat the Covid-19 disease. It was a surprise for all of us that operate in the Brazilian market.”

“IBG has no activities or facilities in that area; we have installations in 10 states but nothing in Amazonas State. There is no exchange of information between gas companies in Brazil due the antitrust rules. The Manaus location is essentially an island in the middle of forest that is difficult to be accessed by river or road.”

“We are facing a chaotic situation in different areas of Brazil, but Manaus is critical because of its location. Many people are dying. People are suffering due to the lack of planning. We are trying to save lives.”

He continued, “As we understand it, the oxygen production capacity was enough to supply the market of Amazonas but consumption increased 4 or 5 times more than the standard demand.”

“There is simply not enough production in Manaus to support the growing demand the nearest ASUs are in Belém and Açailandia (Para state). There is an ASU sold by IBG/Gas Engineering to a steel mill. The logistical situation is very complicated and to send oxygen liquid from Belém to Manaus takes around six days by ferry. The ISO containers are filling in Belém, sent by river (ferry) and returned empty via air, which reduces almost one week in the trip.”

Oxygen could also come from the nearest Venezuelan plant, but there are some political problems between Brazil and Venezuela, de Oliveira explained.

Read more: Coronavirus – IBG increases oxygen production

According to the official White Martins website, the latest local language press release published on its site – dated 24thJanuary – says that the company had just received two oxygen cargos in liquid trailers which came as donation from its Venezuelan subsidiary Invegas, located 980km north by road.

Another communication issued the day prior (23rd January) described how White Martins had increased its maximum oxygen supply in Manaus to around 80,000m3 per day – equivalent to 2.5 times its local production capacity.

IBG cryogenic trailer

Source: IBG

More to come from IBG

In addition to the ISO container and 2,000 cylinders already sent to Manaus, gasworld understands IBG is in the midst of preparations to make another 1,000 cylinders available to the region.

The company is also preparing to invest around R$80m ($15m approx.) in a new factory in the Midwest region, which will be ready in 18 months, it confirmed. The plant in the Midwest could also help to supply the Manaus area in the long-term.

“We are also supplying hospitals in Midwest region for patients that have being sending by plane to be treated,” de Oliveira said.

IBG has enjoyed rapid growth in its relatively short history, approaching 30 years of business since its inception in 1992, and is currently the only 100% Brazilian and privately-owned company.

Read more: IBG invests in innovation

It has been able to grow and expand its operations, with a network of 16 filling stations/branches in addition to its headquarters and main production and distribution centre in Jundiaí, São Paulo. As much as 30% of its production is geared towards the medical sector.

Enduring crisis

Brazil continues to endure the third-highest total of confirmed cases of Covid-19 (coronavirus), with just over 9.2 million cases and 224,000 fatalities at the time of writing, according to data from the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Centre for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

According to the same dashboard, Amazonas State has so far suffered just over 267,000 confirmed cases and more than 8,000 fatalities. Of these, gasworld understands from its source in Brazil that around 120,000 cases are from Manaus, and deaths in the city number just over 5,500.

In the period from 15th January to 31st January, 397 patients have been transferred from Manuas to other Brazilian states for treatment, according to the Amazonas State Secretaria de Saude website.