May 5, 2020 / 12:38 AM / a month ago

Brazil health minister downplays need for new hospital in virus-hit Manaus

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Health Minister Nelson Teich arrives a news conference, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brasilia, Brazil April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian Health Minister Nelson Teich on Monday disputed the need to set up a new hospital to fight the coronavirus pandemic in hard-hit Manaus, even as the city’s hospitals are overwhelmed and officials have resorted to burying COVID-19 victims in mass graves.

Manaus, located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, is arguably the worst hit of all major cities in Brazil, which has recorded over 105,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,000 deaths as of Monday. While the total number of cases is larger in some cities, public health infrastructure in Manaus is particularly lacking, health officials say.

Teich’s popular predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who was fired in April amid tensions with President Jair Bolsonaro, had promised the federal government would set up a temporary “campaign hospital” in Manaus in May to deal specifically with cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“Before thinking about a campaign hospital, we have to think about how we optimize the situation here. The hospital is large, with space to grow,” Teich said, while visiting the Nilson Tins Hospital in Manaus.

“As we have scarce resources, we have to understand what we will be able to use in a short time frame,” he said.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the danger of the virus, calling it a “little flu.”

The state of Amazonas, where Manaus is located, registered 2,374 natural deaths last month, versus 801 deaths in April 2019.

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Peter Cooney

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