The federal government declared a health emergency on Monday due to the coronavirus pandemic, suspending non-essential activities until April 30 as the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Mexico surged past 1,000.
The emergency declaration was announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard at the government’s nightly coronavirus press conference following a General Health Council meeting chaired by President López Obrador.
Ebrard said that the aim of the measures in the declaration is to decrease the spread of Covid-19 and reduce the number of deaths caused by the infectious disease. While the health emergency declaration remains in force, the federal Health Ministry will have the authority to determine actions that must be taken by all three levels of government.
According to the declaration, all non-essential public, private and social sector activities, including the collection of data for the 2020 national census, must be suspended between March 30 and April 30.
Among the activities excluded from the directive are those related to healthcare in both the public and private sectors, public security, the delivery of justice, the operation of government social programs, energy supply, food production and sale, water supply, farming and fishing, infrastructure maintenance, financial services, telecommunications and transportation.
Federal and state legislatures will also be permitted to continue legislative activities.
Ebrard said that businesses that don’t comply with the order to close, or refuse to continue to pay their employees during the one-month suspension of activities, could face sanctions or be forcibly closed. He also said that they could face criminal complaints if they place the health of their workers at risk by refusing to suspend activities.
Under the emergency declaration, the social distancing initiative that officially commenced on March 23 is extended to April 30 and schools will remain closed until the same date. The government ordered the suspension of all meetings and events that seek to gather more than 50 people and is urging all people to stay at home as much as possible.
Those aged over 60, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension must strictly observe the stay at home order, according to the emergency declaration.
Ebrard urged all Mexicans to wash their hands frequently, maintain a healthy distance from each other and observe strict hygiene practices when coughing or sneezing.
He stressed that the human rights of all people in Mexico will be respected while the stricter restrictions are in place, asserting that the government will not implement a “state of siege” in which it could arrest those violating the measures contained in the emergency declaration.
The foreign minister predicted that Mexico will have a “difficult month” in April but stressed that if the stricter measures were not put in place the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could last more than a year.
“It’s a matter of choosing what we want to do: concentrate all our efforts this [coming] month or have at least a year of enormous economic difficulties. What would happen [in the latter scenario]? Poverty would increase a lot,” Ebrard said.
At the same news conference, Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell announced 101 new Covid-19 cases, taking the number of confirmed cases in Mexico to 1,094. He also said that the coronavirus death toll had increased to 28 from 20 a day earlier.
In addition to the confirmed cases, there are 2,752 suspected Covid-19 cases and 5,635 people have tested negative for the disease, López-Gatell said.
The deputy minister reiterated the message that Mexico has a final opportunity to slow the spread of Covid-19 to reduce deaths and avoid the health system being overwhelmed.
“Right at this time, we have the opportunity to take advantage of the mitigation measures that imply a mass restriction [on movement]; millions of people have to restrict their movement so that this can have a positive effect,” López-Gatell said.
At the start of the press conference, Health Minister Jorge Alcocer called for calm amid the growing coronavirus outbreak and asserted that health authorities continue to act responsibly and with “sound judgement.”
“Don’t be alarmed, I can guarantee you that the health workers of the nation form an excellent team. [The situation] is not permanent, we’re learning about this new viral infection. Some of us have certainly [already] acquired immunity. … Together we will overcome the challenges that are presented to us.”