The federal government continues to face criticism for its response to the coronavirus pandemic even though it declared a health emergency on Monday that stipulated stricter measures to contain the spread of the disease.
Some experts believe that Mexico is acting too late and not carrying out enough Covid-19 tests to prevent a widespread outbreak such as that seen across the northern border in the United States.
Health authorities announced on Tuesday night that there are 1,215 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Mexico and that a total of 11,008 tests have been completed. Many experts believe that the real number of cases is much higher – hidden by the lack of testing that has taken place.
The number of tests carried out to date is low compared to many other countries and even dwarfed by New York state, where more than 205,000 tests had been performed as of Tuesday.
Janine Ramsey, an infectious disease expert with Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, told the Associated Press that widespread Covid-19 testing should have occurred in February and March. She suggested that politics may have been a factor in the lack of testing to date.
“Politics is very, very much involved in the decision-making going on right now. Mexico, politically, does not value scientific evidence. Why? Because it takes decision-making away from the politicians,” Ramsey said.
“For most of us, especially those of us who work with infectious pathogens, there is absolutely no excuse not to test,” she added, explaining that widespread testing is the only way to determine how fast a disease is spreading.
Dr. Joseph Eisenberg, chair of the Epidemiology Department at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, also said that Mexico should have started testing more widely earlier.
“Testing is really our eyes, otherwise we’re kind of blind,” he told AP.
“The only way you can really understand where the disease is and where you really need to focus your energies with respect to control is to be able to know where the infections are. And the only way to know that is through testing.”
For its part, the government has defended its response to the virus, stating that on-the-ground health surveillance provides much of the information it needs to determine how the coronavirus epidemic is evolving. Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell said on Tuesday that he expects the epidemic curve to begin flattening soon as a result of the government’s social distancing recommendations.
Authorities have ramped up their “stay at home” message in recent days, with President López Obrador urging Mexicans to avoid going out as much as possible in a video message posted to social media on Friday.
The next day, López-Gatell delivered his most emphatic exhortation for people to stay at home and the government on Monday declared a health emergency that stipulated the suspension of non-essential activities until April 30. It also prohibited events seeking to gather more than 50 people, among other measures.
But the measures announced on Monday are “too late,” according to Dr. Miguel Betancourt, president of the Mexican Society of Public Health, who said that they should have been announced two weeks earlier when the epidemic curve began to steepen.
“We still have time to avoid an outbreak that grows out of control but we all have to do our part,” Betancourt said.
However, without federal authorities threatening to impose penalties on people who flout the directive to stay at home, and with millions of Mexicans not in a position to follow it because they are unable to support themselves if they don’t continue to work, it remains to be seen how effective the emergency declaration measures will be.
Susana Ruiz, a vegetable vendor in a market in the north of Mexico City, told AP that she couldn’t stop working because she has no other way to earn a living and the government hasn’t provided any other options.
Esperanza Rivas, a 50-year-old Mexico City resident, downplayed the threat of Covid-19.
“If this virus were so dangerous, I think they would have already closed the metro,” she said referring to the capital’s subway system.
Source: AP (en)