SAO PAULO/BRASILIA—Brazil's richest and most populous state, Sao Paulo, has warned its ability to care for seriously ill COVID-19 patients is on the verge of collapse as it runs perilously low on key drugs, according to a letter to the federal government seen by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.
Sao Paulo state said it expects to run out of crucial intubation drugs, needed to sedate patients, in the next few days, the paper reported on Wednesday.
"The supply situation regarding drugs, mainly neuromuscular blockers and sedatives, is very serious," Sao Paulo Health Secretary Jean Gorinchteyn wrote in the letter.
"Collapse is imminent," he said.
Gorinchteyn confirmed the letter in a news conference on Wednesday, telling reporters: "we need the federal government to help us."
The situation in Sao Paulo, which has one of Brazil's most sophisticated public hospital networks, is a dire indication of the strain on Brazil's healthcare system.
A new survey by biomedical institute Fiocruz through April 10 found that 86% of beds in intensive care units (ICUs) in Sao Paulo are full. Nearly all of Brazil has ICUs suffering critical capacity shortages and 10 out of 26 Brazilian states have occupancy over 95%, the data shows.
Fiocruz said the data indicates there is still a high rate of transmission in the country and that "the pandemic will remain at worrying levels throughout the month of April."
Brazil for several weeks has had some of the worst COVID-19 death tolls in the world, accounting for about a quarter of daily deaths attributed to the virus worldwide.
Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/2FThSv7 in an external browser.
President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his handling of the pandemic, including downplaying the disease's severity, promoting dubious treatments and repeatedly opposing social-distancing measures.
Experts say his handling of the outbreak has encouraged the virus to run rampant, increasing the likelihood of mutations, such as the P.1 variant, which has raised alarms worldwide.
Scientists studying the virus in Brazil found the P.1 variant is already mutating in ways that could make it better able to evade antibodies.
Brazil's vaccination rollout also lags those of other large economies and has been plagued by dysfunction.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said Pfizer Inc would increase deliveries of its coronavirus vaccine to 15.5 million doses in the second quarter, up from a previous estimate of 13.5 million. (Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Jake Spring in Brasilia and Eduardo Simoes and Marcelo Rochabrun in Sao Paulo Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Matthew Lewis)