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Relatives of COVID-19 patients stand in line waiting to refill their oxygen bottles in Villa María del Triunfo, in southern Lima

Dozens of Peruvians queue outside the municipality of a populous district of Lima to get a free oxygen recharge for serious relatives with coronavirus.

« We wanted to save and we took away the oxygen he was using (to bring the tank to recharge) and while we are here his saturation began to drop and we were leaving, » says . about his sick family member Yanet Dionisio, 41, while waiting his turn in front of the municipal building of Villa María del Triunfo, in the south of Lima.

With portable plants that produce medicinal oxygen, an attempt is being made to alleviate a shortage that began three months ago in Peru, the third country in Latin America with the highest number of covid-19 infections and deaths, behind Brazil and Mexico.

The pandemic put the Peruvian health system on the brink of collapse, with more than 13,400 hospitalized patients with coronavirus.

Although the country began gradual de-confinement on July 1 after more than 100 days of national quarantine, many Peruvians still have to get the oxygen their sick relative needs at home or in a hospital.

This distressing panorama led the Association of Municipalities to acquire a truck with a portable oxygen-generating plant and distribute it in the 43 districts of the capital.

Some desperate family members have to queue all night to ensure a free recharge, enduring the cold and high humidity of the Lima winter. The only requirement, in addition to carrying an empty tank, is to sign an affidavit and show a photo of the patient.

Before being filled, the empty tank is disinfected by municipal personnel.

« Honestly, oxygen is very scarce, I swear that yesterday we went all over Lima to look for a couple of patients, » Marco Antonio Pitor, 42, tells ..

« It is difficult to see people cry and claim and beg for oxygen, » adds Pitor, who says he went to get oxygen for relatives of friends.

– « Strategic resource » –

Apart from the shortage, another problem is the prices. Some Peruvian families spend about $ 50 a day on oxygen to try to make their sick relatives survive the pandemic.

« Getting oxygen is horrible because they ask too high for prices and apart from that they only want to sell you three meters and my dad uses those three in three or five hours, so it is not enough », laments Jennifer García, 34 years old.

The Peruvian government declared oxygen a « strategic resource » in early June. The then head of the covid-19 national command and current Minister of Health, Pilar Mazzetti, affirmed that those who speculated on its price should be accused of « treason against the fatherland. »

With 33 million inhabitants, Peru exceeded 400,000 cases of coronaviruses on Wednesday, of which more than 18,800 have died.

– On the coast, mountains and jungle –

Parallel to the distribution of the Association of Municipalities, the Peruvian government mobilized the Army to distribute oxygen free of charge.

A military truck with an oxygen-generating machine delivers to the poorest districts of Lima. Behind the vehicle the relatives form long lines with their tanks to stock up.

In addition, some private companies have made oxygen donations, among them the mining company Southern, from Mexican capitals.

The shortage has affected not only Lima but also other cities on the coast, the mountains and the jungle. Among them Trujillo, on the north coast, and in the Andean Arequipa, the second city of Peru, in the south.

The jungle region of Loreto, where the Amazon river is born, was the first to suffer from oxygen shortages, but the situation has improved in recent weeks in that remote area.

Now it is also insufficient in Huánuco, in the central jungle, and in Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

« We do not have human resources, there are already five nurses who have become ill. How are we going to attend to patients if we do not have oxygen, » a nurse who was participating in a protest outside the Puno regional hospital complained to RPP radio.