Oxygen from Venezuela arrives in Amazon city for COVID-19 patients

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MANAUS, Brazil (Reuters) - A convoy of five trucks carrying oxygen sent by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro arrived late on Tuesday night in the Brazilian city of Manaus, where hospitals ran out of supplies in a resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

The tractor trailer trucks took two days to cover the 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) between Ciudad Guayana and Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state, whose governor had appealed for help amid a surge of severe coronavirus infections and a crippling lack of oxygen tanks.

Doctors in overwhelmed Manaus hospitals said patients had to share cylinders and some had suffocated when the oxygen ran out. The Brazilian Air Force flew in emergency supplies on Saturday to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

Brazil’s government said nothing of the Venezuelan shipment, which was allowed to cross into the country on Monday.

The gesture by leftist Maduro was a slap in the face for Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, a fierce critic of the Venezuelan leader, whom he has called a “dictator.”

Bolsonaro is facing criticism for his handling of the outbreak, which has killed more than 210,000 Brazilians — the worst death toll outside the United States — even as the president continues to play down the gravity of the virus.

Dispatching what he said was 136,000 liters of oxygen on Sunday, Maduro referred to the crisis in Manaus as “Bolsonaro’s health disaster.”

Bolsonaro told supporters on Monday that the Venezuelan oxygen was welcome but attacked Maduro and suggested that he focus on helping Venezuelans.

Reporting by Bruno Kelly; Writing and additional reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and Steve Orlofsky