Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Government misled public over Mexico City’s virus contagion levels: report

The federal government allegedly lied about hospital occupancy levels and the coronavirus positivity rate in Mexico City to avoid having to designate the capital as a red light “maximum” risk state at the start of December.

The government uses 10 different indicators to determine the stoplight color allocated to each of Mexico’s 32 states.

Two of the indicators are hospital occupancy and the coronavirus positivity rate – the percentage of Covid-19 tests that come back positive.

On December 4, Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, the federal government’s coronavirus point man, signed a document notifying Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum about the risk level in the capital, The New York Times reported. It was announced that day that Mexico City would remain at the orange light “high” risk level.

In the document, the federal government claimed that 45% of beds with ventilators in the capital were in use, the Times reported. However, official data showed that 58% of such beds were occupied.

The document López-Gatell sent to Sheinbaum also said the positivity rate in Mexico City at the end of November was 25%. But official data showed that the rate was in fact above 35%.

The Times said that if the government used the higher official data rather than the lower figures – whose source is unknown – Mexico City would have reached a score of 33 on the stoplight system. (A state is allocated points for each of the 10 indicators.)

By using the lower bed occupancy and positivity rates, the federal government was able to keep Mexico City’s risk score below the 32-point threshold that triggers a red light declaration.

The Times said in a report published Monday that in response to its repeated requests for information, “government officials would not explain where the unaccountably lower numbers came from.”

Mexico City was declared a red light state on Friday but the designation came two weeks later than it appears it should have. In the two weeks between December 4 and 18, coronavirus cases numbers continued to increase and more and more patients arrived at hospitals in the capital, pushing the healthcare system to the brink of collapse.

The government’s apparent fudging of figures makes a mockery of its stoplight system, which was supposed to provide an objective assessment of the coronavirus risk level.

A large crowd in Mexico City's historic center on Saturday.
A large crowd in Mexico City’s historic center on Saturday.

“They have deliberately tried to hide the emergency,” Xavier Tello, a Mexico City-based health policy analyst, told the Times.

“Every day they delayed the decision [to declare Mexico City red], more people were exposed,” he said.

“We are alone, the federal government isn’t helping us — they’re actually taking this lightly,” said Diana Banderas, a Mexico City doctor who treats coronavirus patients. “Now, we are collapsing.”

The government’s motivation for fudging figures and thus avoiding an economic lockdown in the nation’s capital and largest city, at least for two weeks, is clear – it didn’t want to inflict more financial pain on citizens who have already suffered extensively in 2020.

López-Gatell has consistently maintained that strict lockdowns are not viable in Mexico because of the country’s high levels of inequality. Not going out to work on a daily basis means not eating for many people who live hand to mouth.

Sheinbaum also said that her government tried to avoid an end-of-year economic shutdown because “this time of year is really important in terms of families’ finances.”

“We are doing everything within reach, absolutely everything to avoid a situation in which we have to shut down all activities,” she said before Friday’s announcement that the capital was turning red.

The trade-off in delaying a shutdown – deceitfully, it appears – is that more people are placed at risk of contracting the coronavirus, ending up in hospital or even dying.

As is the case around the world, government-mandated coronavirus restrictions have their supporters and detractors.

While health workers are understandably strong proponents of lockdown orders, many workers in Mexico’s vast informal are less enthusiastic.

“As much as the government might want to send us back into isolation, I think the economy here in Mexico wouldn’t allow it,” Óscar Gutiérrez, a Mexico City flower vendor, told the Times.

People are prepared to risk exposure to the virus to ensure they and their families don’t go hungry, he said.

“You’ll die of one thing or the other,” Gutiérrez said. “I’m going to work as long as they let me.”

Mexico News Daily

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