Authorities in Mexico City have set a new coronavirus testing record, applying tests to 42,360 people between October 24 and 31.
The number of people tested at health kiosks, hospitals and medical centers in the last week of October was 48% higher than the previous record set in the first week of September when 28,579 citizens were tested in the capital.
By comparison, the city of San Francisco, California, has been doing 5,000 tests a day and New York City nearly 50,000.
According to the Mexico City government, 40% of all coronavirus tests in Mexico between October 24 and 31 were performed in the capital. Authorities reported 8,811 new coronavirus cases in Mexico City in the same period.
The capital has been Mexico’s coronavirus epicenter since the beginning of the pandemic, and has recorded far more confirmed cases and Covid-19 deaths than any other state. As of Monday, Mexico City’s accumulated case tally was 163,418 and the death toll was 15,231.
The federal Health Ministry estimates that there are currently 11,575 active cases in the capital, a figure that accounts for one in four active cases across the country.
Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, who tested positive for Covid-19 last week, said in late October that stricter restrictions could be implemented due to an increase in the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients.
The mayor’s consideration of returning the capital to red light “maximum” risk on the coronavirus stoplight system has reportedly placed her at loggerheads with Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, the federal government’s coronavirus point man, and President López Obrador.
The president is said to be opposed to implementing stricter restrictions in the capital due to the economic impact such a move would have. The Mexican economy has already taken a massive hit from the pandemic and associated restrictions, slumping almost 20% and 10% in the second and third quarters, respectively, compared to the same periods last year.
Sheinbaum, a close ally of López Obrador, has also had differences of opinion with the federal government over face masks.
The mayor has advocated much more forcefully for their use and began wearing one early in the pandemic whereas López Obrador and López-Gatell have been much more reluctant to promote – and wear – them.
The president and deputy minister both said last week that there was no possibility that the federal government would enforce their use. The latter asserted that their effectiveness in stopping the spread of the coronavirus is “overstated” in the “public narrative.”
Although the federal government is apparently opposed to the implementation of red light restrictions in Mexico City, there are strong arguments for tighter rules.
Almost 3,000 coronavirus patients are currently receiving treatment in hospitals in the capital, about a quarter of whom are on ventilators.
In addition, there is widespread flouting of existing rules and restrictions in Mexico City: masks are supposedly mandatory but many people choose not to wear them with impunity, parties and other large gatherings are becoming increasingly common and keeping a “healthy distance” from others is evidently not a priority for some.
In a bustling, densely-populated metropolis such as Mexico City, social distancing is indeed impossible in many situations, especially among people using public transit or working in the busy historic center.
A shift to red on the stoplight system would not only force the closure of – or at least tighter restrictions on – some businesses but also send a clear message to Mexico City residents that the risk of coronavirus infection remains very real.
Some capitalinos and chilangos, as residents of the capital are known, appear to have little concern about the risk of contracting Covid-19 even though so many people have died in Mexico City.
Just one example of the apparent nonchalance among some is that thousands of devotees of Saint Jude Thaddeus flocked to the San Hipólito church in central Mexico City last Wednesday to pay their respects to the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes on his annual feast day.
“Saint Jude can handle everything, even the damn Covid,” said one follower amid a large crowd of non-socially distanced devotees, some of whom were not wearing face masks.
The event set off alarm bells among local authorities and federal officials including López-Gatell, who reiterated that large gatherings are risky.
The deputy minister warned that if large groups of people also gather on December 12 – the feast day of the widely venerated Virgin of Guadalupe – there will be an “extremely high risk” of coronavirus transmission.
López-Gatell also said that if large numbers of people from around the country descend on the Basilica of Guadalupe in northern Mexico City – millions of people normally flock to the church on the feast day – coronavirus case numbers could subsequently spike in states where the pandemic has recently waned.
Mexico has already recorded more than 900,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 90,000 Covid-19 deaths to rank 10th and 4th in the world, respectively, for infections and fatalities, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Cases and deaths in Mexico City account for about one-sixth (16%-17%) of the national totals despite only 7% of Mexicans (excluding those who live in México state municipalities in the greater metropolitan area) calling the capital home.