Peru slammed by oxygen shortage as coronavirus deaths spike

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LIMA (Reuters) - The death toll in Peru continued to mount on Friday as a relentless second wave of the coronavirus left many hospitals short of oxygen for critical patients even as daily infections continued to climb.

In Lima, long lines snake down city blocks as friends and relatives seek to snatch up the last remaining bottled oxygen available in the capital. Oxygen has tripled in price in some regions, officials say, as price gougers squeeze the desperate.

“Many people have already died, you understand me?” said Soledad Fernández as she waited at one of few stores with limited oxygen availability in the poor neighborhood of Villa El Salvador de Lima. Fernandez said she hoped for enough oxygen to save her brother, who had recently fallen ill.

At least 11 hospitals in Lima - home to almost a third of the country’s population - have run short of oxygen, Peruvian Medical Federation President Godofredo Talavera said in an interview.

“We have an oxygen crisis, and it is unfortunate that people are dying at home or in hospitals,” said Talavera.

The shortage has prompted hundreds of COVID-19 patients to attempt to transfer to the Ica region, well south of Lima, where some waited on a highway to access a plant that had earlier offered to sell oxygen, television images showed.

The crisis follows revelations that high-level government officials, including the health and foreign ministers, had jumped the line to receive the Sinopharm vaccination months before it was widely available in the Andean nation. The crisis has thrown the country’s nascent vaccination program into disarray.

Peru’s government said last week that the oxygen deficit amounted to 110 tons a day. Chile and South Korea have both pitched in to help.

Infections in Peru have spiraled to a new daily average of 7,000 in the last week, while the death toll has hit around 200 per day, according to the Ministry of Health.

Reporting by Marco Aquino and Reuters TV; Writing by Dave Sherwood