As Mexico’s official Covid-19 death toll passed 50,000 on Thursday, the federal government’s coronavirus czar declared that it’s time to move to a “second phase of response” to the pandemic.
Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell reported Thursday night that the death toll had increased to 50,517 with 819 additional fatalities registered.
He also reported that Mexico’s accumulated case tally had risen to 462,690 with 6,590 new cases recorded by the federal Health Ministry.
Earlier on Thursday, López-Gatell met virtually with state governors and federal cabinet members and told them that it’s “essential” to transition to “side B” or the “second phase of response.”
He stressed that a transition to a new phase of management of the pandemic doesn’t imply that the response to date has failed.
“In a review of what we’ve done up to now, we identified elements that allow us to conclude that the management [of the pandemic] has been correct … and compatible with international recommendations and standards,” the deputy minister said.
López-Gatell said the fact that the government carried out a review of the strategy to date – which included a two-month-long national social distancing initiative and the enforced closure of most nonessential businesses between late March and the end of May – doesn’t mean that it regrets the way in which it responded.
Instead, the government is acknowledging the “need to prepare ourselves for a phase which, due to its duration and the burden it has on the economy and society, requires other complementary approaches,” he said.
The deputy minister said that in the “second phase of response,” a balance needs to be found between stopping the spread of the coronavirus and reactivating the country’s economic and social life.
Avoiding an increase in hospital occupancy levels and reducing Covid-19 deaths will continue to be part of the government’s strategy moving forward, López-Gatell said.
He said that a review of the government’s coronavirus stoplight system – used to assess the risk of infection in each of the the 32 states and establish which mitigation measures should be tightened or eased – is also needed.
Federal health officials will meet with members of the National Health Council on Monday to look at ways that the stoplight system can be improved. The views of governors, some of which have rejected the federal stoplight system, will be taken into account, López-Gatell said.
He reiterated to governors at Thursday’s virtual meeting that the coronavirus pandemic is unlikely to end any time soon.
“To my knowledge there is not a specific prediction about the length [of the pandemic] or an end date,” he said, adding that it could last two or three years with new outbreaks interspersed with lulls.
“There is no doubt that it is going to be a long epidemic. A prediction about a possible end point is extraordinarily difficult to make.”
He also renewed his warning that the flu season, which runs from October to March or April, could coincide with new outbreaks of the coronavirus. That situation would place even greater pressure on Mexico’s health system.
At last night’s press conference, López-Gatell said that 43% of general care hospital beds set aside for coronavirus patients and 38% of those with ventilators are currently occupied.
More than 13,600 coronavirus patients are currently in hospitals across Mexico while almost 4,000 are on ventilators, according to federal data.
Nayarit, Nuevo León and Coahuila have the highest occupancy rates for general care beds, at 79%, 71% and 65%, respectively.
Nuevo León has the highest occupancy rate for beds with ventilators, at 65%, followed by Colima and Tabasco, where 59% and 53%, respectively, of those beds are in use.
The reporting of Mexico’s 50,000th Covid-19 death came 140 days after the first fatality was reported in mid March.
Mexico’s death toll doubled from 25,060 on June 25 to 50,517 on Thursday, a period of 43 days. In that period, an average of 592 Covid-19 deaths were reported each day.
If the death toll continues to increase at the same pace, total fatalities will reach 60,000 – a figure López-Gatell said on June 4 could be recorded only in a “catastrophic scenario” – on August 22, just 15 days away.
While Mexico has now officially tallied more than 50,000 Covid-19 fatalities, several studies have concluded that there have been tens of thousands of deaths in excess of the official count. A low testing rate means that the number of people who have been infected with the coronavirus is almost certainly much higher than Mexico’s official case tally shows.
One infectious disease specialist says that more than 7 million people may have been infected.
Even as the coronavirus situation worsened, President López Obrador, who came under fire early in the pandemic for downplaying its seriousness, has claimed that the outbreak has been controlled and has said repeatedly that the country would soon overcome it completely.
However, several Health Ministry forecasts about when new case numbers would reach their highest point were proved wrong and just this week the Pan American Health Organization predicted that the outbreak would peak in August.
The pandemic — which has decimated Mexico’s lucrative tourism industry — and the economic restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus have crippled the economy, with GDP plummeting a record 18.9% in the second quarter of the year.
López Obrador has predicted a quick recovery but many economists are forecasting that the Mexican economy will decline by 10% or more in 2020, which would be the country’s worst economic performance since the Great Depression.