Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell called for unity in the fight against coronavirus as Mexico’s Covid-19 case tally neared 300,000 on Sunday and the official death toll exceeded 35,000.
His remarks came two days after he blamed state governments for providing inconsistent coronavirus data to federal authorities and for seeding new outbreaks by reopening their economies too quickly.
López-Gatell adopted a more conciliatory tone on Sunday, saying that his intention was to draw attention to everybody’s need to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“The risk is not for me, the president or the government. The risk is … for everyone and the solution depends on … joint responsibility,” he said.
The attempt at damage control could be too little too late as some state governors remain angered by the accusation that they are not providing reliable data to the federal government and that they are to blame for a spike in coronavirus case numbers.
Members of the Association of National Action Party Governors, who collectively govern nine states, said Saturday that they would ask for an urgent meeting with federal Health Minister Jorge Alcocer to seek clarification about López-Gatell’s remarks.
Officials with the Institutional Revolutionary Party and Tabasco Governor Adán Augusto López Hernández, who governs for Morena, Mexico’s ruling party, also took umbrage at the deputy minister’s comments on Friday.
San Luis Potosí Health Minister Mónica Liliana Rangel said that authorities in that state have always provided the coronavirus data sought by the federal Health Ministry in a timely manner, while Coahuila Interior Minister José María Fraustro accused López-Gatell of not understanding how the pandemic is playing out on the ground.
“The reality of which Hugo López-Gatell speaks is theoretical because he doesn’t even know the impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” Fraustro said.
“If he wants to see what is really happening, he should come and meet with the governors and [state] health ministers. … It’s urgent for him to know the reality, that it’s not the same as what is depicted to him through infection and death statistics.”
For his part, López Hernández said that his administration is providing data to the federal government about the coronavirus outbreak in Tabasco as many as three times a day.
He charged that the federal Health Ministry has presented inconsistent data – not the other way around – explaining that he had spoken to López-Gatell because statistics on the availability of hospital beds in Tabasco made public at Friday night’s coronavirus press conference didn’t match state records.
López Hernández also said that his administration has followed all of the advice of the federal government with regard to reopening even though the latter has made it clear that the states can tweak as they see fit the recommended restrictions at each risk level according to the four-tier “stoplight” system.
López-Gatell reiterated on Sunday that state governments have the authority to take “informed decisions” based on the “stoplight” map, which has not yet been updated for this week as a result of the alleged data inconsistencies.
Amid the disagreement between the federal government and the states, Mexico’s accumulated Covid-19 case tally increased to 299,750 on Sunday with 4,482 additional cases registered. About 10% of the total – 29,839 – are currently active, according to federal data.
An additional 276 Covid-19 fatalities were added to the official death toll, which now stands at 35,006. Mexico now ranks fourth for Covid-19 fatalities, having passed Italy’s death toll on Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Only the United States, Brazil and the United Kingdom have recorded more Covid-19 deaths than Mexico.
But in a video message posted online on Sunday, President López Obrador pointed out that Mexico’s per-capita fatality rate is lower than other countries with high death tolls such as the U.S., the U.K and Spain.
“This means that [the pandemic in Mexico] is not as the conservative newspapers show,” he said.
The president charged that the “conservative press” is being alarmist by comparing the situation in Mexico to that in other countries.
Citing a Health Ministry report, López Obrador asserted that Mexico’s pandemic is in fact on the wane because case numbers are only increasing in nine of 32 states. He defended his government’s management of the coronavirus crisis amid the growing criticism.
“I want to provide tranquility, security that we’re moving forward, improving; we’re facing up to this pandemic well and professionally,” López Obrador said.
“There is space [in the hospitals], there are beds, there is equipment, there is specialized personnel to look after the sick,” he said.
López Obrador defended the work of López-Gatell, Mexico’s coronavirus point man, asserting that he’s the victim of a smear campaign.
“They attack him constantly, they’re desperate because what they expected didn’t happen,” he said, without explaining what was expected.
The president, who has faced criticism himself for downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic, praised citizens for acting responsibly during the pandemic and thus helping to suppress the virus.
“The people of Mexico have acted in an exemplary way. If we’ve been able to confront this pandemic, it has been due to the responsible and sensible attitude of our people,” he said.
The president called on citizens only to leave their homes if it is really necessary and urged them to continue to observe social distancing recommendations, good hygiene practices and to avoid crowds.