Coronavirus 'Wave' Hits Latin America, Reaching Remote Amazon Regions

Emergency teams are airlifting critical patients out of villages in Brazil as the country ranks third in COVID-19 cases.
Posted at 3:57 PM, May 22, 2020

Emergency medical flights into remote regions of Brazil's Amazon basin are tripling in number this month. And that speaks to the expanding reach of the coronavirus in South America.

Rescue teams are airlifting residents who have been sickened in villages stretching into the rain forest.

Brazil ranks third in the world with over 310,000 COVID-19 cases and 20,000 deaths, with urban centers of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero experiencing major impacts.

Yet now, this is the scene in an emergency field hospital in the city of Manaus, capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas and a regional hub. 

Eighty percent of ICU beds in the state are full. So this facility was set up in a closed school. It takes in critical patients airlifted from distant towns. 

Dr. Marcos Espinal is the director of communicable disease at the Pan American Health Organization. He says, "Latin America was the last wave" for the coronavirus. 

And impacts are also being felt in regions like this: high in the Andean mountains of El Alto, Bolivia. Limited testing in the country has reported barely over 5,000 cases and 215 deaths. But concerns mount for vulnerable seniors, including these residents living above the capital of La Paz.

Neighboring Peru has reported nearly 110,000 coronavirus cases and 3,100 deaths. Efforts are also unfolding there to get medical supplies and emergency personnel to remote, vulnerable regions.

Cities in Ecuador are also getting hit by the virus, with numbers spiking this month. Reported infections there have topped 35,000 cases, with nearly 3,000 deaths.

Meanwhile, ambulances arrive throughout the day in this working class district outside Rio de Janiero. A converted medical center opened there May 4 for an overflow of COVID-19 patients. The wave is hitting hard and it's not letting up.