Coronavirus
Deputy Health Minister López-Gatell Deputy Health Minister López-Gatell at a Covid press conference. The last one was held Friday.

Authorities estimate one-quarter of Mexicans have been infected with Covid

The figure is more than 12 times higher than the official tally of confirmed cases

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More than 30 million Mexicans, or about one-quarter of the population, have been infected with the coronavirus, according to Health Ministry estimates.

The ministry said on Friday that the 2020 National Health and Nutrition Survey indicated that 31.1 million people in Mexico have had the virus. That figure is more than 12 times higher than Mexico’s official tally of confirmed cases, which currently stands at 2.45 million.

Tonatiuh Barrientos, an official at the National Institute of Public Health, said that not all of the people in the survey’s estimate would have had symptoms. Many coronavirus cases, especially asymptomatic ones, are believed to have gone uncounted in Mexico due to the low testing rate.

The health survey was conducted with members of almost 14,000 households between August and November of last year.

Mexico went through a second – and worse – wave of the pandemic in December and January after the first wave receded in the middle of 2020.

Mexico’s official Covid-19 death toll – currently 230,150 – is also considered a vast undercount due to the low testing rate. The government acknowledged in March that the country’s true Covid-19 death toll was almost 60% higher than official numbers indicated.

The publication of the estimate on the number of people infected came on the same day that the Health Ministry held its final nightly Covid-19 briefing, more than a year after officials began fronting up to the press on a daily basis to outline the pandemic situation and offer advice to citizens about how to avoid being infected.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, the coronavirus czar who led the majority of the press conferences, announced earlier last week that the daily appearances would come to an end, explaining that the Health Ministry would convey information about the pandemic to citizens in another way.

In presenting daily briefings since early last year, the ministry has reached a point of “exhaustion,” the government’s pandemic point man said.

“We will always be open to having [future] press conferences and interviews, but now with a different regularity according to what’s necessary.”

After Friday night’s final press conference – the 451st – López-Gatell was met by supporters and admirers outside the National Palace in Mexico City and the deputy minister was presented with a cake and flowers, and serenaded by mariachi musicians.

The first Johnson & Johnson vaccines arrive Tuesday and will be administered in the northern border region.

“We have to keep looking after ourselves, [the pandemic] hasn’t ended,” he told his fans before posing for photos with them.

The end of the nightly coronavirus press conferences coincides with a significant decline in the intensity of the pandemic. Reported case numbers were down 35% in May compared to April, and Covid-19 deaths declined 51% to an average of 215 per day last month. Nineteen of Mexico’s 32 states, including Mexico City – the nation’s coronavirus epicenter – are currently low risk green on the federal government’s coronavirus stoplight map.

The end of the nightly pressers also comes as the government’s vaccination program continues to gather speed. More than 36.4 million shots have been administered across Mexico and the government has received more than 46.2 million doses of five different vaccines.

The government said Monday that a shipment of a sixth vaccine – made by Johnson & Johnson – would arrive on Tuesday, 12 days after the United States told Mexico it would send 1 million doses.

“I can confirm that 1.3 million doses of the Jannsen [single-shot] vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson will arrive tomorrow from the United States,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter.

“With that, the vaccination of people aged 18-39 in the municipalities on the border with the United States will be able to start,” he wrote.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was authorized for emergency use by health regulator Cofepris last month but has not yet been used in Mexico. The five used to date have been the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, CanSino, SinoVac and Sputnik V shots.

Mexico has previously received some 2.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the U.S. government under a loan scheme, and has now begun donating some of its shots to other countries in the Americas.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) said on Saturday that the government would deliver 400,000 doses of AstraZeneca that were manufactured in Argentina and bottled in Mexico to Bolivia, Paraguay and Belize.

Bolivia and Paraguay will get 150,000 doses each and Belize will get 100,000, the SRE said.

“The decision was taken by the president of the republic, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and executed by the Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, with the aim of showing the solidarity of Mexico [with other nations] and fostering access to vaccines in countries of the region,” the statement said.

“… We hope to be able to prepare more shipments for other countries in the near future,” said Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Martha Delgado.

With reports from Reuters, El Universal, Animal Político and Milenio 

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