Six former federal health ministers have proposed a new national strategy to stop the spread of the coronavirus that includes a nationwide testing campaign and the mandatory use of face masks.
In a document seen by the newspaper Reforma, former health ministers Salomón Chertorivski, José Ángel Córdova, Julio Frenk, Mercedes Juan, José Narro and Guillermo Soberón assert that the federal government’s strategy to combat the virus underestimates the seriousness of the pandemic.
They noted Mexico’s low Covid-19 testing rate – only about 11,000 people per 1 million inhabitants have been tested so far – and charged that the government has shown an “incomprehensible” reluctance to test more widely.
The former ministers also said that the government’s “administrative disorder” has caused a shortage of medical supplies and charged that it has shown contempt for the General Health Council.
The government’s “erratic and inadequate” strategy to track the spread of the coronavirus in Mexico and its “anti-science resistance” to the use of face masks are just some of the failures in the management of the pandemic, they said.
The former health ministers, who served under former presidents Miguel de la Madrid, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, also noted that 79% of coronavirus patients who have died were never connected to a ventilator.
The analysis they undertook was commissioned by the the Citizens Advisory Council, a group created by the Citizens Movement political party.
The ex-officials proposed the implementation of a national plan over a period of six to eight weeks to get on top of the coronavirus outbreak.
They said the government needs more and better quality data to control the pandemic and to that end urged a national testing campaign. They also proposed that wearing a face mask be made mandatory across Mexico (many but not all states have made them obligatory) and said that localized lockdowns should be enforced in areas with high numbers of coronavirus cases.
The former health ministers also urged citizens to avoid enclosed and crowded places as much as possible and to continue practicing social distancing. In addition, they said that extra efforts need to be made to vaccinate widely against the seasonal flu, which is expect to coexist with the coronavirus during the winter months, and advocated for the formation of a scientific committee to evaluate the government’s response to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s accumulated tally of confirmed coronavirus cases increased to 642,860 on Tuesday with 5,351 new cases registered. The Covid-19 death toll rose to 68,484 with an additional 703 fatalities.
Speaking at the Health Ministry’s coronavirus press briefing on Tuesday night, Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, who has led the government’s pandemic strategy, responded to the news that the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca had paused its phase three clinical trials of the coronavirus vaccine developed at Oxford University due to a serious adverse reaction in a participant.
The consequence for Mexico could be that the arrival of the vaccine, of which millions of doses are slated to be produced here, will be delayed, López-Gatell said.
The coronavirus czar said the suspension of clinical trials of vaccines is common because rigorous safety protocols have to be upheld while they are being carried out. He said that issues are sometimes resolved in 24 to 72 hours but that suspensions can last longer if more detailed investigations including a thorough examination of the affected person or people are required.
“It’s difficult to predict how long the suspension will last,” López-Gatell said.
AstraZeneca has not disclosed the nature of the adverse reaction the vaccine trial participant suffered.
If the vaccine does eventually pass phase three trials, its production in Mexico and Argentina and distribution across Latin America will be funded by the charitable foundation of Carlos Slim, Mexico’s richest person.
Before the AstraZeneca trials were paused, President López Obrador said that a free, universal Covid-19 vaccine would be available in the first quarter of 2021 and volunteered to be the first person in Mexico to be inoculated.