Confirmed cases of novel coronavirus Covid-19 in Mexico remain low but there is a growing resignation that a much more widespread outbreak is only a matter of time.
Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell said Thursday that community transmission within Mexico could begin within about 15 days. All of the 12 confirmed cases to date were detected in people who have recently traveled abroad to countries including Italy, Spain and the United States.
“We detected the first case on February 27; in our mathematical modeling we had calculated up to 40 days before we would arrive at the community transmission stage,” López-Gatell told reporters at the president’s regular news conference.
However, the experience in European countries such as Italy and Germany showed that community transmission will likely occur within 30 days of the detection of the first case, he explained.
According to a model developed by Gustavo Cruz, a mathematician at the National Autonomous University (UNAM), a widespread outbreak of coronavirus will commence between March 20 and 30. “The spread of the disease is something that is inevitable,” he said.
As soon as community transmission is detected, López-Gatell said, the government will inform the public.
“We’re going to announce it not just because of an ethical conviction or transparency but because it’s essential as part of the scientific and technical response,” he said.
The deputy health minister said that efforts to detect potential cases of coronavirus at the nation’s main airports will be ramped up in an attempt to slow down transmission of the disease.
He acknowledged that the spread of Covid-19 could force the postponement or cancellation of as many as 8,000 events but stressed that the government will aim to ensure that there is not “unnecessary damage to the economy.”
Later on Thursday, federal Tourism Secretary Miguel Torruco announced that the Tianguis Turistico 2020 – Latin America’s largest tourism industry event – would be postponed. The event will now take place in Mérida, Yucatán, from September 19-22 rather than March 22-25, he said.
For its part, UNAM announced that it was suspending all large gatherings such as meetings, concerts and graduation ceremonies from March 23.
The university also said that it would suspend classes if an outbreak in Mexico reaches so-called stage 3, in which thousands of people are infected. It also said that individual faculties could shut down if Covid-19 cases are detected among their students.
Meanwhile, doctors working at a makeshift migrant camp on the Mexico-United States border in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, are treating the arrival of coronavirus as a certainty rather than a possibility, according to a report by news outlet Al Jazeera.
One doctor said that when Covid-19 arrives at the camp, where some 2,500 asylum seekers live, the effect will be “catastrophic” and people will die.
Sam Bishop, Matamoros project coordinator for medical NGO Global Response Management, which runs the camp’s only clinic, told Al Jazeera that the biggest threat comes from volunteers who cross into the camp from the United States and might be carrying coronavirus without realizing it.
Despite the risks, one family in the camp said that they were not specifically worried about Covid-19 because they expected to get sick during the journey to seek asylum in the United States.
“If the sickness is going to happen, it’s going to happen,” one migrant said.